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^)(/HAT IS


The "impulse to enter, with other humans,
through language, into the order and disorder of
the world, is poetic at its root as surely as it is

Adrienne Rich at the
political at its root," writes
beginning of her powerful new prose work.
What Is Found There is Rich's response to her im-
pulse as a poet to know poetry fully, to plumb
and scale and inhabit it; it is also, profoundly,
Rich's attempt to bring poetry into the lives of
many kinds of people — out of the academy, away
from the literary magazines. In a voice that is

generous, bold, and personal. Rich uses the poet's
materials —
journals and letters, dreams, memo-
ries, and close reading of the work of many
poets —
to reflect on poetry and politics, to con-
sider how they enter and impinge on an Ameri-
can hfe, and what it means to be a citizen of a
fragmented country, part of a people turned in-
ward for safety. Rich acknowledges the cost of
this turning: "We have rarely, if ever, known
what it is to tremble with fear, to lament, to rage,
to praise, to solemnize, to say We have done this,
to our sorrow, to say Enou^^h, to say We will, to say

We will not. To lay claim to poetry." But she ac-
knowledges hope as well. Speaking to poets, to
readers of poetry, to all of us who imagine and
desire a humane civil life. Rich lays claim to po-
etry as an instrument of change, and offers up its

possibilities: "I see the hfe of North American
poetry at the end of the century as a pulsing,
racing convergence of tributaries — regional, eth-
nic, racial, social, sexual — that, rising from lost

or long-blocked springs, intersect and infuse each
other while reaching back to the strengths of
their origins."

Jacket design by Laurie Dolphin
Jacket art: "T-5" by Judith Larzelere 1986
Collection of: Kenneth Kronenberg
Photo: Jan Bindas Studios, Boston, MA
T-5 is a color-field quilt. It represents space in a canyon
where only a sliver of light can pierce the darkness.

Digitized by the Internet Archive
in 2010

Collected Early Poems

An Atlas of the Difficult World:
Poems 1 98 8-1 99

Time's Power: Poems 1985-1988

Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1 979-1 986

Your Native Land, Your Life

The Fact of a Doorframe: Poems Selected and New 1 950-1 984


A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far

On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose, 1 966-1 978

The Dream of a Common Language
Twenty-one Love Poems

Of Woman Born: Motherhood As Experience and Institution

Poems: Selected and New, 1 950-1 974

Diving into the Wreck

The Will to Change


Necessities of Life

Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law

The Diamond Cutters

A Change of World

What Is
W-W-Norton & Company

What Is

Grateful acknowledgment is made for permission to quote from the works of
Gloria Bolden, Jacqueline Dixon-Bey, and Mary Glover in INSIGHT: Serving
the Women of Florence Crane Women's Facility, Coldwater, Michigan.

Portions of this book first appeared in The American Poetry Review, Hungry Mind
Review, The Kenyon Review, Parnassus, and PMLA. was fortunate
I to be able to
present parts of the final draft as the McGill Lecture at the University of
Southern CaHfornia, for the Hellgate Writers' Workshop in Missoula, Mon-
tana, for the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and as the 1993 Paul Zweig Lecture for
Poets House, New York.

Jacket art: T-3 by Judith Larzelere (1986). Collection of Kenneth Kronenberg.
Photo: Jan Bindas Studios, Boston, Massachusetts.

Copyright © 1993 by Adrienne Rich
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America

The text of this book is composed in Bembo 270
with the display set in Centaur.
Composition and manufacturing by The Haddon Craftsmen, Inc.

Book design by Antonina Krass.
Stenciled book ornament by William Addison Dwiggins.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Rich, Adrienne Cecile.
What is found there: notebooks on poetry and politics

/ Adrienne Rich.
p. cm.
ISBN 0-393-03565-4
I. Rich, Adrienne Cecile —Notebooks, sketchbooks, etc.

2. Politics and literature. 3. Poetry. I. Title.

PS3535I233W45 1993
818'. 5403 —dc20 93-9912

ISBN 0-393-03565-4

W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 500 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY loi 10
W. W. Norton & Company Ltd., 10 Coptic Street, London WCiA iPU

Preface xiii

I. Woman and bird 3

II. Voices from the air 9
III. "What would we create?" 14
IV. Dearest Arturo 22
V. *'Those two shelves, down there" 28

VI. As if your life depended on it 32
VII. The space for poetry 34
VIII. How does a poet put bread on the table? 40
IX. The muralist 43
X. The hermit's scream 54
XI. A leak in history 72
viii 1

XII. Someone is writing a poem 83

XIII. Beginners 90
XIV. The real, not the calendar, twenty-first century 102

XV. "A clearing in the imagination" 107
XVI. What is an American Hfe? 118

XVII. "Moment of proof* 124
XVIII. "History stops for no one" 128

XIX. The transgressor mother 145
XX. A communal poetry 164
XXI. The distance between language and violence 181

XXII. Not how to write poetry, but wherefore 190
XXIII. "Rotted names" 197
XXIV. A poet's education 206
XXV. To invent what we desire 214
XXVI. Format and form 217
XXVII. Tourism and promised lands 228

XXVIII. What if? 235

Notes 251

Selected Bibliography 271

Acknowledgments 277
Permissions Acknowledgments 279
Index 285
It is difficult

to get the news from poems
yet men die miserably every day

for lack

of what is found there.

—William Carlos Williams,
"Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"
Dead power is everywhere among us — in the forest, chopping down
the songs; at night in the industrial landscape, wasting and stiffening the

new life; in the streets of the city, throwing away the day. We wanted
something different for our people: not to find ourselves an old, reac-

tionary repubhc, full of ghost-fears, the fears of death and the fears of
birth. We want something else.
—Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry

. . . what, anyway,
was that sticky infusion, that rank flavor of blood, that
poetry, by which I lived?

—Galway Kinnell, "The Bear"

Sometimes we drug ourselves with dreams of new ideas. The head will
save us. The brain alone will set us free. But there are no new ideas

waiting in the wings to save us as women, as human. There are only old

and forgotten ones, new combinations, extrapolations and recognitions
from within ourselves —along with renewed courage
the to try them
—^Audre Lorde, "Poetry Not Is a Luxury"
Pr e f ac e

This book is about desire and daily life. I began it because I

needed a way of thinking about poetry outside of writing poems;
and about the society I was living and writing in, which smelled
to me of timidity, docility, demoralization, acceptance of the
unacceptable. In the general public disarray of thinking, of feel-
ing, I saw an atrophy of our power to imagine other ways of
navigating into our collective future. I was not alone in this

perception, but I felt it with a growing intensity, especially as the

Cold War, which had occupied so much of the political horizon
of my life, began to unravel. It seemed that a historic imaginative

opportunity was passing through and that, in the stagnation and
dissolution of public life, it might be grasped at weakly, if at all.

Some people, indeed, spoke of claiming a "peace dividend," of
xiv I

turning the billions of Cold War dollars toward curing the social

lesions within our borders, even toward creating, at last, a de-
mocracy without exceptions, that was really for us all. But the
major (in the sense of most visible and audible) conduits of pub-
lic dialogue in the United States have had little aptitude —or
use — for framing such visions, or the poHcies that might emerge
from them.
I knew —had long known —how poetry can break open
locked chambers of possibiUty, restore numbed zones to feeling,
recharge desire. And, in spite of conditions at large, it seemed to

me that poetry in the United States had never been more various
and rich in its promise and its realized offerings. But I had, more
than I wanted to acknowledge, internalized the idea, so com-
mon in this country, so strange in most other places, that poetry

is powerless, or that it can have nothing to do with the kinds of
powers that organize us as a society, as communities within that

society, as relationships within communities. If asked, I would
have said that I did not accept this idea. Yet it haunted me.
And so this book reflects the time and place in which it has

been written: an alleged triumph of corporate capitalism in

which our experience —our desire itself — is taken from us, pro-
cessed and labeled, and sold back to us before we have had a

chance to name it for ourselves (what do we really want and
fear?) or to dwell in our ambiguities and contradictions. It re-

flects the undertaking, by one kind of artist, to see and feel her
way to an understanding of her art's responsive and responsible
relationship to history, to her contemporaries, and to the future.

I have never believed that poetry is an escape from history, and I

do not think it is more, or less, necessary than food, shelter,
health, education, decent working conditions. It is as necessary.

In a different kind of society, the struggle I was experiencing
might seem perplexing, either because the repression of the artist

took such unmistakable and ruthless forms, or because art was
Preface | xv

assumed to be as integral to daily life as roads, laws, literacy, clean

air, and water. I know that "capitalism" is an unfashionable
word. "Democracy," "free enterprise," "market economy" are
the banners now floating above our economic system. Still, as a

poet, I choose to sieve up old, sunken words, heave them, drip-
ping with silt, turn them over, and bring them into the air of the
present. Where every public decision has to be justified in the
scales of corporate profits, poetry unsettles these apparently self-

evident propositions —not through ideology, but by its very
presence and ways of being, its embodiment of states of longing
and desire.

This is one poet's book, one citizen's book. But, in fact, po-
etry is new places, by unforetold
always being created anew, in
hands and voices. In this, it is like the many movements against
demoralizing power. We don't know where either will come
firom. This is a story without an end.

—Adrienne Rich
February 1993
What Is

Woman and bird

January iggo. I live on a street of mostly older, low-lying little

houses in a straggling, villagelike, "unincorporated" neighbor-
hood between two small towns on the California coast. There
are a few old palms, apple, guava, quince, plum, lemon, and
walnut trees, here and there old roses, cHmbing a fence or free-
standing. One garden boasts an ancient, sprawHng prickly pear.
An elementary school accounts for most of the traffic, mornings
and midafternoons. Pickup trucks and boats on trailers sit for

days or weeks or months in front yards; old people and children
walk in the road, while the serious traffic moves along the front-
age road and the freeway. It's an ordinary enough place, I sup-
pose, yet it feels fragile, as condominiums and automobile plazas
multiply up and down the coast.
4 I
What Is Found There

Around the house I hve in there are trees enough —Mon-
terey pines, acacias, a big box elder, fruit trees, two Italian

cypresses, an eastern maple — so that mockingbirds, fmches,
doves, Steller's jays, hummingbirds are drawn to come and
feed on plums and ollalieberries, honeysuckle and fuchsia dur-
ing the warm months of the year. There's almost always a gull

or two far overhead. Somebody keeps chickens; a rooster
crows at dawn.
Today I returned from an errand, parked the car behind the
house. Opening the car door I saw and heard the beating of
enormous wings taking off from the deck. At first I thought: a
very big gull, or even a raven. Then it alighted on the low roof
of the house next door, stretched its long body, and stood in
profile to me. It was a Great Blue Heron.
I had never seen one from below or from so near: usually from
a car window on a road above a small bay or inlet. I had not seen
one many times at all. I was not sure. Poised there on the peak of
the roof, it looked immense, fastidious, apparently calm. It

turned a little; seemed to gaze as far into the blue air as the curve

of the earth would allow; took a slow, rituaUstic, provocative
step or two. I could see the two wirelike plumes streaming from
the back of its head.
I walked quietly into the garden toward the fence between
the two houses, speaking to it in a low voice. I told it that I

thanked it for having come; that I wanted it to be safe. I moved
backward again a little to look at it better. Suddenly it was in air,

had flapped out of sight.
It would be easy to call this apparition "dreamlike," but it did
not feel so. After some moments I went into the house. I wanted
to be sure I could name what I had seen; to stay with what I had
seen. I pulled from the bookcase a guide to Pacific Coast ecol-
ogy. The color plate of the Great Blue Heron confirmed my
Woman and bird |

Then, as I sat there, my eye began to travel the margins of
the book, along the names and habitats of creatures and plants
of the 4,000-mile Pacific coastline of North America. It was
an idle enough activity at first, the kind that sometimes plays
upon other, subterranean activities of the mind, draws think-

ing and unfiltered feelings into sudden dialogue. Of late, I

had been consciously thinking about the decade just beginning,
the last of the twentieth century, and the great movements
and shudderings of the time; about the country where I am a

citizen, and what has been happening in our social fabric, our
emotional and sensual life, during that century. Somewhere
beneath these conscious speculations lay a vaguer desire: to

feel the pull of the future, to possess the inner gift, the un-
sentimentality, the fortitude, to see into it — if only a little

But I found myself pulled by names: Dire Whelk, Dusky
Tegula, Fingered Limpet, Hooded Puncturella, Veiled Chiton,
Bat Star, By-the-Wind Sailor, Crumb-of-Bread Sponge, Eye
Fringed Worm, Sugar Wrack, Frilled Anemone, Bull Kelp,
Ghost Shrimp, Sanderling, Walleye Surfperch, Volcano Barna-
cle, Stiff-footed Sea Cucumber, Leather Star, Innkeeper Worm,
Lug Worm. And I felt the names drawing me into a state of
piercing awareness, a state I associate with reading and writing
poems. These names —by whom given and agreed on?— these
names work as poetry works, enlivening a sensuous reality
through recognition or through the play of sounds (the short I's

of Fingered Limpet, the open vowels of Bull Kelp, Hooded
Puncturella, Bat Star); the poising of heterogeneous images {vol-
cano and barnacle, leather and star, sugar and wrack) to evoke
other worlds of meaning. Sugar Wrack: a foundered ship in
the Triangle Trade? Volcano Barnacle: tiny unnoticed under-
growth with explosive potential? Who saw the bird named
Sanderling and gave it that caressive, diminutive name? Or
6 I
What Is Found There

was Sanderling the name of one who saw it? These names
work as poetry works in another sense as well: they make
something unforgettable. You will remember the pictorial

names as you won't the Latin, which, however, is more specific

as to genus and species. Human eyes gazed at each of all these
forms of life and saw resemblance in difference — the core of
metaphor, that which lies close to the core of poetry itself, the
only hope for a humane civil Hfe. The eye for Hkeness in the
midst of contrast, the appeal to recognition, the association of
thing to thing, spiritual fact with embodied form, begins here.
And so begins the suggestion of multiple, many-layered, rather

than singular, meanings, wherever we look, in the ordinary
I began to think about the names, beginning with the sound
and image delivered name "Great Blue Heron," as tokens
in the

of a time when naming was
poetry, when connections between
things and living beings, or Uving things and human beings, were
instinctively apprehended. By "a time" I don't mean any one

historical or Hnguistic moment or period. I mean all the times

when people have summoned language into the activity of plot-
ting connections between, and marking distinctions among, the
elements presented to our senses.
This impulse to enter, with other humans, through language,
into the order and disorder of the world, is poetic at its root as
surely as it is political at its root. Poetry and poUtics both have to
do with description and with power. And so, of course, does
science. We might hope to fmd the three activities — poetry,

science, politics — triangulated, with extraordinary electrical ex-

changes moving from each to each and through our Hves. In-
stead, over centuries, they have become separated —poetry from
poHtics, poetic naming from scientific naming, an ostensibly
"neutral" science from political questions, "rational" science

Woman and bird

from lyrical poetry —nowhere more than in the United States

over the past fifty years.

The Great Blue Heron is not a symbol. Wandered inadver-
tently or purposefully inland, maybe drought-driven, to a back-

yard habitat, it is a bird, Ardea herodias, whose form, dimensions,
and habits have been described by ornithologists, yet whose in-
tangible ways of being and knowing remain beyond my —or
anyone's — reach. If I spoke to it, it was because I needed to

acknowledge in words the rarity and signifying power of its

appearance, not because I thought it had come to me. The tall,

foot-poised creature had a life, a place of its own in the manifold,
fragile system that is this coastline; a place of its own in the
universe. Its place, and mine, I believe, are equal and interde-
pendent. Neither of us —woman or bird — is a symbol, despite
efforts to make us that. But I needed to acknowledge the heron
with speech, and by confirming its name. To it I brought the
kind of thingmy kind of creature does.
A Mohawk Indian friend says she began writing "after a
motor trip through the Mohawk Valley, when a Bald Eagle flew
in front of her car, sat in a tree, and instructed her to write."

Very little in my own heritage has suggested to me that a wild

Hving creature might come to bring me a direct personal mes-
sage. And I know too that a complex humor underlies my
friend's statement (I do not mean it is a joke). I am suspicious
first of all, in myself —of adopted mysticisms, of glib spirituality,

above all of white people's tendency to sniff and taste, uninvited,

and in most cases to vampirize American Indian, or African, or
Asian, or other "exotic" ways of understanding. I made no claim
upon the heron as my personal instructor. But our trajectories
8 I
What Is Found There

crossed at a time when I was ready to begin something new, the
nature of which I did not clearly see. And poetry, too, begins in
this way: the crossing of trajectories of two (or more) elements
that might not otherwise have known simultaneity. When this

happens, a piece of the universe is revealed as if for the first time.

Voices from the air

On a bleak December night in 1967, 1 lay awake in a New York
City hospital, in pain from a newly operated knee in traction. It

was too soon for the next pain-dulling injection; I was in the

depression of spirits that follows anesthesia, unable to sleep or to
discover in myself any thread that might lead me back to a place I
used to recognize as "I." Turning the dial of my bedside radio
for music, I came upon a speaking voice, deep, a woman's.
"Who am I?" it asked.

Thou art a box of worme-seede, at best, but a salvatory of greene
mummey: what's this flesh? a little cruded milke, phantastical
puff'-paste: our bodies are weaker than those paper prisons boys
use to keep flies in: more contemptible: since ours is to preserve
lo I
What Is Found There

earthwormes: didst thou ever see a Larke in a cage? such is the

soule in the body. . . .

Am not I, thy Duchess?

Thou art some great woman, sure, for riot begins to sit on thy
fore-head (clad in gray haires) twenty years sooner, then on a
merry milkmaydes. Thou sleepst worse, then if a mouse should be
forc'd to take up her lodging in a cats eare: a little infant, that

breedes it's teeth, should it lie with thee, would crie out, as if thou

wert the more unquiet bedfellow.

I am Duchess of Malfy still.

That makes thy sleepes so broken:
Glories (like glow-wormes) afarre off, shine bright

But look'd to neere, have neither heate, nor light.

It does not seem strange to me now — it did not seem so
then — that this dialogue, in which the opposition of flesh and
spirit is so brutally vaunted, and which ends in the strangling of
the Duchess, could, crystallized out of the airwaves on an icy

night, solace my consciousness to the point of rehef For that is

one property of poetic language: to engage with states that

themselves would deprive us of language and reduce us to pas-
sive sufferers.

Thirteen years later, a different night, another radio. Driving
over the mountains from upstate New York into Massachusetts,
once more twisting a dial, I brought in not music, but a voice,

speaking words I had read many times:

The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The reader became the book; and summer night

Voices from the air |

Was like the conscious being of the book.

The house was quiet and the world was calm.

The words were spoken as if there was no book.
Except that the reader leaned above the page.

Wanted to lean, wanted much most to be
The scholar to whom his book is true, to whom

The summer night is Uke perfection of thought.
The house was quiet because it had to be.

The quiet was part of the meaning, part of the mind:
The access of perfection to the page.

And the world was calm. The truth in a calm world.

In which there is no other meaning, itself

Is calm, itself is summer and night, itself

Is the reader leaning late and reading there.

Wallace Stevens, reading his poetry on a recording. And for

those moments, on a mountain road on a calm night, for two
Hsteners in a world we knew to be in fracture, the words
Stevens at his plainest and most mantralike — rose in that flat,

understated, actuarial voice to bind the actual night, the moving
car, the two existences, almost as house, reader, meaning, truth,

summer, and night are bound in the poem. For a few moments,
we could believe in it all.

But what is a poem like this doing in a world where even the
semblance of calm is a privilege few can afford? Another sce-
nario: Your sister, stabbed in the early morning hours by her
boyfriend ("lover" is not the word, "domestic partner" is not
12 I
What Is Found There

the word), called you at 1:30 a.m. You were back from the
evening shift at the nursing home; your children and your
mother, who lives with you, were asleep. You had just looked in
at the children, turned to the refrigerator to pack their lunches
for morning. As you searched for cold cuts, the phone rang; it

was Connie —Can you drive me to the emergency? he's taken

my car. You have had to do this before, you are enraged though
differently at both of them; but she's your sister, and you scrawl a

note to your mother, push the food back in the refrigerator, and
run for the car. On the highway you twist the radio dial for

late-night music. There are words, coming through suddenly
clear: house . . . quiet . . . calm . . . summer night . . . book . . . quiet

. . . truth. What would make your hand pause on the dial, why
would these words hold you? What, of the world the poem
constructs, would seem anything more than suburban separa-
tism, the tranquil luxury of a complacent man? If you go on
listening, if the words can draw you in, it's surely for their music
as much as for meaning —music that calls up the state of which
the words are speaking. You are drawn in not because this is a

description of your world, but because you begin to be re-

minded of your own desire and need, because the poem is not
about integration and fulfillment, but about the desire (That
makes thy sleepes so broken) for those conditions. You listen, if you

do, not simply to the poem, but to a part of you reawakened by
the poem, momentarily made aware, a need both emotional and
physical, that can for a moment be affirmed there. And, maybe,
because the phrase "summer night" calls up more than a time
and a season.

A poem can't free us from the struggle for existence, but it can
uncover desires and appetites buried under the accumulating
Voices from the air |

emergencies of our lives, the fabricated wants and needs we have
had urged on us, have accepted as our own. It's not a philosophi-
cal or psychological blueprint; it's an instrument for embodied
experience. But we seek that experience, or recognize it when it

is offered to us, because it reminds us in some way of our need.
After that rearousal of desire, the task of acting on that truth, or

making love, or meeting other needs, is ours.
What would we create?'

it's like being sick all the time, I think, coming home from work,
sick in that low-grade continuous way that makes you forget
what it's Uke to be well, we have never in our lives known
what it is to be well, what if I were coming home, I think,
from doing work that I loved and that was for us all, what
if I looked at the houses and the air and the streets, knowing
they were in accord, not set against us, what if we knew the powers
of this country moved to provide for us and for all people
how would that be —how would we feel and think
and what would we create?

—Karen Brodine, "June 78"
I imagine this message in Congress on the State of the Union:
situation tragic,

left underground only 75 years of iron
50 years of cobalt
but 55 years worth of sulphur and 20 of bauxite
in the heart what?
Nothing, zero,
mine without ore,

cavern in which nothing prowls,
of blood not a drop left.

—Aime Cesaire, "On the State
of the Union"
"What would we create?" 15

Yet this is still my country
The thug on duty says What would you change
—W. S. Merwin, "Caesar"

October 1990. Time to say that in this tenuous, still unbirthed
democracy, my country, low-grade depressiveness is pandemic
and is reversing into violence at an accelerating rate. Families
massacred by fathers who then turn the gun on themselves; the
deliberate wounding and killing of a schoolyardful of Asian-
American children in a small California town; mass or serial

murders of university students in Berkeley and Florida. Violence
against women of every color and class, young dark-skinned
men, perceived lesbians and gay men. More and more violence
committed by children — against themselves, each other, adults:

suicides, gang warfare, patricide and matricide. And the vio-
lences, violations obscured because they happen in places and to
people that are out of sight, out of mind. Much violence that
doesn't make the evening news, committed against people in

prison, or prostitutes, or American Indians, or undocumented
immigrants, or in nursing homes and state hospitals, or just part
of Saturday night after a few drinks. When we try to think about
this, if we're not too tired to think, we're driven to name old
sores within the body poHtic: racism, homophobia, addiction,
male and female socialization. You are tired of these lists; I am
too. Some say there should be gun control; others call for law
and order. We blame television, as if television were anything
but another symptom. Who owns the means of communication,
the cables, the satellites? who pays for the commercials? dictates
the content of "entertainment"?
i6 I
What Is Found There

January 1991: War is bestowed like electroshock on the de-
pressive nation: thousands of volts jolting the system, an artificial

galvanizing, one effect of w^hich is loss of memory. War comes at
the end of the tvv^entieth century as absolute failure of imagina-
tion, scientific and political. That a v^ar can be represented as

helping a people to "feel good" about themselves, their country,
is a measure of that failure.

Lip service, at least, is now^ paid to the fragile ecology of the
physical world, the endangerment of algae and plankton, scav-
engers and pollinators, trees and deserts, ozone itself, whose con-
tinuance is vaguely understood to be a guarantee of our own.
But our expressive and passionate life is equally an endangered
because an exploited and manipulated — sector. We have mu-
seums of the passions, waxworks, taxidermy, emotional cram
notes, emotional theme parks, emotional tourism. Feelings
become instant commodities; at the San Francisco airport, early
March 1 99 1 you could buy A Gulf War Feelings Workbook for

Children in a bright spiral plastic binder. An out-of-date com-
modity, soon, no doubt, supplanted by yellow ribbons, which,
Hke flags, are safe and static emblems; they leave no question
open, they keep at bay doubt, confusion, bitterness, fear, and

It's possible that our national despair is by now too intricate
and interwoven for disentangling. We have individual despair,
loss of jobs, loss of shelter, loss of community, isolation within
community, bewildered resignation, daily, routine fear, and self-

blame. We have people who do not name what they are going
"What would we create?" | 17

through as despair, would be offended or dismissive at the

thought. But we see despair when social arrogance and indiffer-

ence exist in the same person with the willingness to live at

devastating levels of superficiality and self-trivialization. We see

despair in the self-hatred that clogs the lives of so many materi-
ally comfortable citizens. We hear despair in the loss of vitality in
our spoken language: "No problem," we say, "that was a heal-

ing experience," we say, "thank you for sharing that," we say.

We see despair in the political activist who doggedly goes on and
on, turning in the ashes of the same burnt-out rhetoric, the same
gestures, all imagination spent. Despair, when not the response
to absolute physical and moral defeat, is, like war, the failure of
It's also the fruit of massive national denial, of historic national
reahties. The passage from Aime Cesaire is part of a poem writ-
ten on the 1956 murder and mutilation of a Black youth, Em-
mett Till, in Mississippi, at the hands of white men, who were
acquitted by an all-white jury. Cesaire alludes, in the poem, to

the "five centuries" of white violence on this soil, which are the

fifteen-year-old Till's real age. A violence that shows no sign of
abating as this century closes.
Is it possible that 1992 is to become a watershed, the year
when the histories of the Americas begin to be told and listened
to —not as the conqueror's narrative, but as the multipHcity of
the real stories, the true voices, of two continents? Is it possible

that citizens of the United States, including the most recent
immigrants, might turn and face the conditions on which this

country was founded, the assumptions — often in the form of
images and stories — never examined, the legacies we carry from
1492, from 1 619, to begin with, that shaped the propertied-class
revolt we call our revolution, the national slogans that the great
immigrant waves of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries
received along with citizenship? Could we, still, in the name of
I 8 I
What Is Found There

transforming ourselves as a people, make some national recogni-
tion of our past, of the lies we have been told and have told our
children —could we then, as a people, break through despair?

For a long time I've been trying to write poems as if, within
this social order, it was enough to voice public pain, speak mem-
ory, set words in a countering order, call up images that were in

danger of being forgotten or unconceived. In a country where,
even among the arts, poetry is the least quantifiable, least com-
moditized, of our "national products," where the idea of "poUt-
ical poetry" is often met with contempt and hostility, this

seemed task enough. But I've also lived with other voices whis-
pering that poetry might be little more than self-indulgence in a
society so howHng with unmet human needs an elite art, fi- —
nally, even when practiced by those among us who are most
materially at risk. It's been possible to consider poetry as a mar-
ginal activity, of passionate concern to its practitioners perhaps,

but as specialized, having as little to do with common emer-
gency, as fly-fishing.

But there's been a missing term. I saw, or thought I saw, that
poetry has been held both indispensable and dangerous, one way
or another, in every country but my own. The mistake I was
making was to assume that poetry really is unwanted, impotent,
in the late twentieth-century United States under the system
known as "free" enterprise. I was missing the point that precisely

because of its recognitive and recollective powers, precisely be-
cause in this nation, created in the search for wealth, it eludes
capitalist marketing, commoditizing, price-fixing, poetry has
simply been set aside, depreciated, denied pubHc space.
This is the difference between the United States and Turkey
in the late 1930s, when the revolutionary poet Nazim Hikmet
— I

"What would we create?" | 19

was sentenced to twenty-eight years in prison "on the grounds
that the miHtary cadets were reading his poems." This is the
difference between the United States and Greece, where, both
in the 1930s and after World War II, the sociaHst poet Yannis
Ritsos was interned in concentration camps, exiled, placed
under house arrest, his writings burned. This is the difference
between the United States and the Stalinized Soviet Union,
when the poet Osip Mandelstam (among countless other writ-
ers, in Russian and Yiddish, murdered in those years) was per-
secuted and exiled for an anti-Stalin poem, or, in the 1970s, the
poet Natalya Gorbanevskaya sent to a "penal mental institu-
tion," or, in the 1980s, the poet Irina Ratushinskaya to a prison

for "dangerous state criminals." This is the difference between
the United States and Chile in 1973, where the junta who came
into power the day of Pablo Neruda's death sacked the poet's
house and banned his books.
In the United States, depending on who you are, suppression

is quahtatively different. So far, it's not a question of creating
human martyrs, since the blacklisted writers of the McCarthy
era, although artists denied state and federal funding as "ob-
scene" are under government censorship, and efforts to deport
the writer Margaret Randall, based on her writings, were vigor-
ously pursued for five years by the INS. Instead, poetry itself —
mean not words on paper only, but the social recognition and
integration of poetry and the imaginative powers it releases

poetry itself is "banned" (in the terminology of the South Afri-
can apartheid laws: forbidden to speak in public, forbidden to be
quoted, to meet with more than one or two persons at the same
time). Poetry itself, in our national life, is under house arrest, is

officially "disappeared." Like our past, our collective memory, it

remains an unfathomed, a devalued, resource. The establishment
of a national "Poet Laureateship" notwithstanding, poetry has
been set apart from the practical arts, from civic meaning. It is
20 I
What Is Found There

irrelevant to mass "entertainment" and the accumulation of
wealth — thus, out of sight, out of mind.
So the ecology of spirit, voice, and passion deteriorates, barely

masked by gentrification, smog, and manic speech, while in the
mirrors of mass-market Hterature, film, television, journalism,
our lives are reflected back to us as terrible and little Hves. We see
daily that our lives are terrible and little, without continuity,
buyable and salable at any moment, mere blips on a screen, that

this is the way we live now. Memory marketed as nostalgia;

terror reduced to mere suspense, to melodrama.
We become stoical; we hibernate; we numb ourselves with
chemicals; we emigrate internally into fictions of past and future;
we thirst for guns; but as a people we have rarely, if ever, known
what it is to tremble with fear, to lament, to rage, to praise, to

solemnize, to say We have done this, to our sorrow; to say Enough,

to say We will, to say We will not. To lay claim to poetry.

Newsletters come in the mail: North CaroHnians Against Ra-
cial and Religious Violence; The Jewish Women's Committee
to End The Center for Constitutional Rights;
the Occupation;
Men of All Colors Together; The United Farm Workers; The
National Coalition against Domestic Violence; The Center for

Democratic Renewal facts, appeals for money, responses to
crisis. I have written checks to these and other such organiza-
tions in the past and continue to do so: this is "checkbook activ-

ism," money in Heu of or in addition to time, to actual presence.

And without checks the fragile movements for justice in this

country could not exist beyond the local level. I call them fragile

because, although unbanned (though undoubtedly under sur-

veillance), organizations Uke these are essentially responses to

crisis: more than a force for new initiatives, they are a struggle

"What would we create?" | 21

responding to erosion and violence. Yet, in an interstitial time
between selective democracy, shot through w^ith intimidation,

and the fever break this country must inevitably undergo as it

enters the next century, they provide essential information not

available in the mainstream press. For this alone they are invalu-
able, and I pay the subscription price of such newsletters as the
price of admission to information that in a working democracy
would be furnished me daily by my local paper, by the New York
Times, the radio and television news.
Over time, some of the facts circulated by the newsletters
enter my poetry. As an image here. A voice there. Muriel
Rukeyser spoke of two kinds of poetry: the poetry of "un-
verifiable fact" — that which emerges from dreams, sexuality,

subjectivity —and the poetry of "documentary fact" — literally,

accounts of strikes, wars, geographical and geological details,

actions of actual persons in history, scientific invention.

Like her, I have tried to combine both kinds of poetry in a

single poem, not separating dream from history —but I do not
find it easy.

From a notebook, March 7, 1974:

The poet today must be twice-born. She must have begun as a

poet, she must have understood the suffering of the world as

political, and have gone through politics, and on the other side of
politics she must be reborn again as a poet.

But today I would rephrase this: it's not a matter of dying as a

poet into politics, or of having to be reborn as a poet "on the
other side of politics" (where is that?), but of something else

finding the relationship.
Dearest Arturo

Dearest Arturo,
I'm writing you tonight because I feel mired in the frustration

of addressing that "someone" to whom I must explain why
poetry and politics aren't mutually exclusive. Maybe I can begin
if I think of myself as talking to you, who would, at the very
least, know what I'm trying for, even if I say it badly.

How to plunge in? We're different generations, cultures, gen-
ders; we're both gay, both disabled, both writers; and that has
helped in our friendship. And so has laughter, good food, and
anger. Yet the very poetics you and I grew up with — the music,
the undervoices, the languages — are different, whatever we love
in common. Sometimes, in our conversations, I've heard myself
Dearest Arturo |

asking, Does this make sense to you? Not wanting to take anything

for granted.

"JEWISH ROOTS IN MISSISSIPPI" says the text on the
poster hanging over my desk. Husband and wife, Wolfe and
Leah Zigransky, of Meridian, with their two little girls, a nine-
teenth-century family group, solid and somber as Victorian ma-
hogany. My own immigrant Sephardic forebears in Vicksburg
were, in ways your novels have shown me, not unlike your
migrant Mexican-CathoUc grandparents. Both our peoples try-
ing to prosper in a foreign culture, to be themselves and yet
"American." Family home both refuge and locus of

pain. Your fiction has helped me know your people and, in

some ways, my own. And to see how "middle class" has had
different meanings for your family and mine.
Arturo —would you agree? —we're unable to write love, as

we so much wish to do, without writing politics. You, as a

Chicano/Mexican, gay, not a "man" in your culture's terms. I,

as a woman, lesbian, Jew, in my sixties. Like you, I've been a
problem within a problem: "the Jewish Question," "the
Woman Question" —who the questioner? who is supposed to
answer? During the Civil War that found my young great-
grandparents, David and PauHne Rice, Hving in Vicksburg, a

reporter for a New Orleans news agency was writing: "The Jews
of New Orleans and all the South ought to be exterminated
. . . they are always to be found at the bottom of every new
villainy." But I've not only Jewish, but white gentile roots in
Virginia, North CaroUna: middle-class people, poor in their
terms after the Civil War, ordinary white and Christian su-
premacists. Whom I thought I could love, growing up, was
dictated by poHtics, known nowadays as "traditional values."

Yet all this brings me to the brink of another problem —how
the word "poHtics" itself is limited and trivialized. Look at the
24 I
What Is Found There

dictionary definition: the science and art of political government . . ,

the conducting of or participation in political affairs, often as a profession

. . . political methods, tactics, etc. . . . political opinions, principles or

party connections . . . factional scheming within a group: as, office

poUtics. Interesting how these definitions exclude not only the

"private," domestic sphere, the places where we lie down with
our unsanctioned lovers, but all activity not carried on within
existing parties, previously institutionalized forms —how the
whole question of power, of ends, is left invisible in these defi-
nitions. So politics is reduced to government, to contests be-
tween the empowered, or to petty in-group squabbles.

I feel as if I've been resisting the limits of these definitions for
at least half my Hfe. In 1969 I wrote in a journal:

The moment when a feeling enters the body
is political. This touch is political.

By which I mean, that politics is the effort to find ways of hu-
manely dealing with each other — as groups or as individuals

politics being simply process, the breaking down of barriers of
oppression, tradition, culture, ignorance, fear, self-protective-

But, Arturo, you know that those words, that definition

(however incomplete), didn't come simply out of one woman's
efforts to live and be human, be sexual, in a woman's body. They
came as much from a spirit of the times — the late 1960s — that I

absorbed through teaching and activism in an institution where
the question of white Western supremacism was already being
talked about, where students were occupying buildings and
teachers either fled the campus or were in constant meetings and
teaching "liberation" classes; in a city where parents were de-
manding community control of the schools; through a certain
Dearest Arturo |

kind of openness and searching for transformed relationships in
the New Left, which soon led to thousands of women asking
"the Woman Question" in women's voices; and from reading
Malcolm X, Chekhov's Sakhalin Journals, Barbara Deming's
Prison Notes, Frantz Fanon, James Baldwin, and the writings of
my students. I could feel around me — in the city, in the country

at large — the "spontaneity of the masses" (later I would fmd the
words in Rosa Luxemburg) and , this was powerfully akin to the
experience of writing poetry. Politics as expression of the im-
pulse to create, an expanded sense of what's "humanly possi-

ble" — this, in the late 1960s and the early women's movement,
was what we tasted, not just the necessities of reactive organizing
and fighting back.
I have never forgotten that taste. In writing a poem, begin-
ning perhaps with a painful dream, an image snatched from rid-
ing a bus, a phrase overheard in a bar, this scrap of private vision
suddenly connected —and still connects —with a life greater than
my own, an existence not merely personal, words coming to-
gether to reveal what was unknown to me until I wrote them.

And you, of course, beginning as we all must with autobiog-
raphy, with childhood, but out of that — the material of one
life —weaving the fictions of many lives, truest when most imag-
ined. Trying to create a Hterature not of immigrants, but of
migrants, of the people who were here in this landscape before
the first Europeans crossed the ocean. Writing in English of a
bilingual people whose first language is itself a political question.
Trying to render in fiction, for your own people and for those
who barely know they exist, what "migrant" means on this

continent, how, as you've said, it's a pervasive condition of
Mexicans in this country, citizens or not. A psychological condi-
26 I
What Is Found There

tion that cannot help but be poHtical. Even when you've written
about love in the family, it's with the sense of how men and
rehgion can distort women's lives, how traditional masculinity

distorts men, how heterosexuals do violence to gays, how the
Chicano family itself, however respectable petty bourgeois, is

part of a suspect and marginal group on a literal and cultural
borderline. Slowly I'm coming to see what you're up against, the

newness of the work you're trying to do. (And, my dear one, I

know the brevity of time ticking as you work.) You've talked of
feeling you're still learning how to do it, how best to weave political
and historical issues into my narratives so that they do not overwhelm the
characters unless I want them to do so. Latin American writers have a gift

for being able to incorporate life and death political concerns into their

fictions artfully, and I study them with envy and admiration. But
you're not a Latin American, whatever the affmities; you are "on
the bridge, at the border," here in this California that is really a

lost piece of Mexico, here in this country, itself so lost regarding
its art, its soul, its history.

You've said, The great justification for the act of reading and writing
fiction is that through it we can be disciplined and seduced into imagining

other people's lives with understanding and compassion, even if we do
not 'identify" with them. Yes. And, in the act of writing, to feel
our own "questions" meeting the world's "questions," to rec-
ognize how we are in the world and the world is in us

When I began this letter, Arturo, you were still living, though
life was becoming a terrible effort. Well, our conversation goes
on, as we promised each other. Tenderly and angrily and with
Dearest Arturo |

laughter. "There is no death, only dying," you said in your note
about one of my poems. And I still need to ask: Does this make
sense to you?

Those two shelves,
down there''

The lack of the means to distribute is another form of censorship.
—Nadine Gordimer

I've been walking in a largely peach-colored, air-conditioned

shopping mall. It's in CaUfornia, but it could be in Champaign-
Urbana, Illinois, or Nashua, New Hampshire, or High Point,
North Carolina. Outside in the heat (shopping malls are private

property, not pubHc space) one or two people are passing out

leaflets on a bill for the protection of the environment, gathering
signatures. Inside, in a space the size of a small village, are cloth-

ing-chain outlets, fast-food parlors, stores selling computers and
camcorders, stuffed animals, papier-mache cactuses and cow
skulls, mugs inscribed with names and mottoes, athletic shoes,
real and plastic houseplants, paper plates, cups, napkins for par-
ties (now in the red, white, and blue of the national hoHday just
past, soon to turn to autumn-leaf motifs, the orange-and-black
of Halloween, ancient syncretic carnival now ratified by com-
merce). I enter this mall rarely, but this time am on a search. A
"Those two shelves, down there" |

dull sourness implodes in me when I'm inside; I can slide toward
depression or anger, depending on the mind I bring to it. What-
ever search you come on must soon dissipate into mental ca-
cophony or restless anomie.
But why? After all, it's a scene — expansive, brightly ht —of
human activity, like any street market or city square, with a

shoe-repair shop, a bakery, a shop for manicures and facials, even
a central fountain from which spokes of wide, banner-hung cor-
ridors extend; and around this fountain there are slatted benches
where old people sit, where mothers meet with their prams and
sodas, though their conversation seems less animated than that
on the city park benches I've known. All human enough, isn't

it? It serves as a combination of pubHc park and market, surely.

But your eyes fmd it difficult to concentrate on the people in

their many colors, shapes, body languages: the sheer overload of
objects —highly though flatly colored, or in highly colored
packaging — pulls at, distracts, disorients the eye, stifles par-

ticularity. The shops are stocked, to the inch, mostly with repeti-
tions of identical merchandise, a plethora of tiny choice- variants
on a single model; nothing here is eccentric, nothing bears the

imprint of an individual maker. An "antiques" shop displays
factory replications of Americana — footstools, end tables, sam-
plers in frames; the bakery turns out row upon row of identical
muflfms; the ethnic food concessions are chain-tailored. And, of
course, I have been using the wrong word throughout this para-

graph: these are not shops, they are "franchises."
The terms "commodity" and "mass production" acquire here
a queasy-making materiality. Probably a majority of these
items —running shoes, T-shirts, tape recorders, three-dimen-

sional cartoon animals, beach towels, plastic sandals, straw and
wicker baskets —were manufactured by the hands of women,
men, children in the Third World; here they are fmgered,
priced, rejected, or bought predominantly by women; when the
30 I
What Is Found There

season changes and the sales are over, are they then shipped to
warehouses in Los Angeles and Canal Street to be wholesaled
back into the Third World?
Here is a chain bookstore, stacked novels lettered in high-
rehef luminescence, computer manuals, intimacy manuals, par-
enting manuals, investment-management manuals, grief-man-
agement manuals, college-entrance manuals, meditation
manuals, manuals on living with cancer, on channeling, on how
to save the earth. I walk past these gleaming romances, these
secular bibles, and ask the young clerk at the register where the
poetry is. He walks me toward the back of the store: "Those two
shelves, down there." Poetry is underneath, and intermixed
with, the books on rock music, movies, and theater —not a bad
thing, I think, but poetry is awfully low "down there." What I

fmd down there is: one iggo Poets' Market, a pubHcation I didn't

know existed; One Hundred and One Famous Poems in a leather-

like binding; the AIDS anthology Poets for Life; one copy of
Wallace Stevens's Collected Poems in hardcover; a Selected Poems
by Robert Bly; Best Loved Poems of the American People; a paper-

back edition of Final Harvest, selected poems of Emily Dickin-
son; Oscar Williams's Immortal Poems of the English Language;

James Kavanaugh's There Are Men Too Gentle to Among

Wolves; and several volumes of plays by Shakespeare. AHce
Walker's In Love and Trouble (a volume of short stories) is, mis-
shelved, the only book by a person of color or by a living
Except. Almost the entire bottom shelf is ranged with hard-
cover and paperback titles by a single female author (or is she a
cottage industry?): Don't Be Afraid to Love, Don't Ever Give Up
Your Dreams, Marriage Is a Promise of Love, Life Can Be Hard
Sometimes, For a Special Teenager. There are at least twenty titles;

they seem to cover hfe crises or, at any rate, life transitions. The
books are uniformly designed and illustrated in a style conform-

"Those two shelves, down there" | 31

ing to everything else in the mall. The verses, each occupying a
single page, have short Hnes, make short declarative statements.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong w^ith declarative statements

in poetry; but in such quantity the effect is numbing.
But why aren't these books out front like the greeting cards or

with the manuals on intimacy, parenting, sex, and grief? Why
are they separated from the consumer guides to depression and
success? Is it because those come with the stamp of the psycho-
logical or technical professional (the author's Ph.D. or M.S.W.
displayed on the jacket), implying an authority that "poetry"
can't claim?And what are they searching for, who go all the way
back and stoop, down there, looking for something labeled "po-
I'm on a search for poetry in the mall. This is not sociology,
but the pursuit of an intuition about mass marketing, the so-
called free market, and how suppression can take many forms
firom outright banning and burning of books, to questions of
who owns the presses, to patterns of distribution and availability.
As your lifeif
depended on it

You must write, and read, as if your life depended on it. That is not
generally taught in school. At most, as if your livelihood depended

on it: the next step, the next job, grant, scholarship, professional
advancement, fame; no questions asked as to further meanings.
And, let's face it, the lesson of the schools for a vast number of
children —hence, of readers — is This is not for you.

To read as if your life depended on it would mean to let into

your reading your beliefs, the swirl of your dreamlife, the physi-
cal sensations of your ordinary carnal life; and, simultaneously, to
allow what you're reading to pierce the routines, safe and imper-
meable, in which ordinary carnal Hfe is tracked, charted, chan-

neled. Then, what of the right answers, the so-called multiple-
As if your life depended on it |

choice examination sheet with the number 2 pencil to mark one
choice and one choice only?
To write as if your life depended on it: to write across the

chalkboard, putting up there in public words you have dredged,
sieved up from dreams, from behind screen memories, out of
silence —words you have dreaded and needed in order to know
you exist. No, it's too much; you could be laughed out of
school, set upon in the schoolyard, they would wait for you after

school, they could expel you. The poHtics of the schoolyard, the
power of the gang.
Or, they could ignore you.
To read as if your life depended on it —but what writing can
be believed? Isn't all language just manipulation? Maybe the poet
has a hidden program — to recruit you to a cause, send you into
the streets, to destabilize, through the sensual powers of lan-
guage, your tested and tried priorities? Rather than succumb,
you can learn to inspect the poem at arm's length, through a long
and protective viewing tube, as an interesting object, an example
of this style or that period. You can take refuge in the idea of
"irony." Or you can demand that artists demonstrate loyalty to

that or this moral or political or reHgious or sexual norm, on pain
of having books burned, banned, on pain of censorship or
prison, on pain of lost public funding.
Or, you can say: "I don't understand poetry."

The space for poetry


After the death of Pablo Neruda, in a time of brutal poUtical
repression in Chile, during which the poet's house was trashed
and sealed up by the military regime, all kinds of people came
surreptitiously to write or scratch, graffiti on the boards of the
fence: messages to the poet, words of resistance, brief phrases,
The space for poetry |

names. Neruda died on the day that the miHtary junta took
power. Even more than in his Ufe, he became a symbol of
Chilean resistance. Both in his writings of and for and to his

country, and in his countrypeople's response to him, there was
a dialogue reaching beyond death. He was internationally fa-

mous, of course; of the middle class; a male. It was not the poetry
of a dark-skinned mestizo — still less, a mestiza — that so com-
manded love and respect. Yet he could have betrayed, and did
not; could have escaped into the international literary elite, and
did not. The fence below his locked and off-limits house became
a place for people to continue voicing their hopes and angers, a
collective page greater even than the poet's books, a page made
possible because of his books, because of the hand that had once
crawled over Hne after line, writing the poems.
What kind of dialogue can exist between poets who are citi-

zens of the United States and their countrypeople? What points
of focus or connection exist? What could precipitate such a dia-
The answers —good as far as they go — are: Poetry needs to be
better taught in the schools. There should be excellent, "excit-

ing" programs about poetry on television, radio. There should
be poetry videos, like music videos, to bring poems to a mass
People speak like this about sex education or drug educa-
tion: How to make their messages popular or at least attention-

riveting? How compete with the structures of excitement of-
fered by the passive media — the manic hecticity of human expe-
rience represented to us by television and commercial film — the
screeching of brakes, the exploding of guns, the strobe-Ut blood
splashing white Hmousines of the rich and famous, organ trans-
plants, babies switched at birth, lottery winner dies of stress,

paranoid schizophrenic kills children in schoolyard, self and en-
tire family, sixteen women students, girl who refused to date
36 I
What Is Found There

him, surrogate mother wants visitation, terror on campus, crimi-
nal court as theater, everything wrenched from everything else,

from history, from context, the meaninglessness of lives reflected

in a fun-house mirror, a communications system designed to

separate, fragment, disinform mass audiences.

For a mass audience in the United States is not an audience for
a collectively generated idea, welded together by the power of
that idea and by common debates about it. Mass audiences are

created by promotion, by the marketing of excitements that take
the place of ideas, of real collective debate, vision, or catharsis;
excitements that come and go, flash on and off, so fast that they

serve only to isolate us in the littleness of our own lives —we
become incoherent to one another.
So when I speak of the lack of pubHc space for poetry, I don't
mean a mass audience of the kind that exists for commercial
films, top-forty music, MTV, "best-seUing" books, network tel-

evision. What takes up pubHc space is determined by industries
dedicated to mass marketing, by the owners of the means of
communication. Poetry remains an art that can be, and contin-
ues to be, produced cheaply, whose material requirements are
modest. On most evenings around the United States, there must
be several thousand poetry readings — in coffeehouses, in gal-

leries, in small basement performance spaces, on campuses, in

synagogues and churches, at outdoor festivals and demonstra-
tions, in pubHc libraries, prisons, and community centers, in

bookstores, at conferences, in theaters, bars, living rooms, barns;
in the amphitheater of an urban teaching hospital. A lectern may
be a collapsible music stand or a pulpit wired for sound; a po-
dium may be the flatbed of a truck or a proscenium stage. The
poet may be reading from pages in a notebook, from a hand-
printed chapbook, from a typescript, from a published volume.
She may be carrying a suitcase full of her books to sell; he may
bring along a mandoHn or drum. Or they may be a roster of

The space for poetry | 37

poets reading for five minutes apiece (usually going overtime)
for the benefit of a magazine, for earthquake reHef, for peace, for

a battered- women's shelter, for the court case of a writer facing
deportation under the McCarran- Walter Act.

A late April evening in 199 1. At the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in
New York City a play by a Puerto Rican playwright ending, is

and the first lesbian and gay poetry reading ever held in this space

is about to begin. Down on a scarred and garbage-strewn block
on Avenue B, an almost unmarked entrance opens into a narrow
space, bar to the right, kitchen audible but not visible, brick

walls stretching upward, assorted tables and chairs, and a very
small stage, more platform than stage. Coming across the Lower
East Side, a fragment from Hart Crane's The Bridge has been
pursuing me:

And Rip forgot the office hours,

and he forgot the pay;
Van Winkle sweeps a tenement
way down on Avenue A, — . . .

And Rip was slowly made aware
that he, Van Winkle, was not here
nor there. He woke and swore he'd seen Broadway
a Catskill daisy chain in May

The audience for the play, about two homeless men, and the
audience for the reading intersect, merge, some leaving, some
arriving; but there is an extension of one audience into the

The cafe, founded in 1974 by the writer Miguel Algarin, is in
3 8 I
What Is Found There

its second Lower East Side location. At first a meeting and per-
formance space for New York Puerto Rican artists, it's become a
center for multicultural urban poetry and theater, seeming the
more vibrant in a city grown more desolate, singing back to the
city furious, satiric, and livid visions from an unextinguished
underground soul. This reading, organized by Susan Sherman,
poet and editor of the cultural-political feminist journal I-KON,
includes Korean-born, white-adopted Mi Ok Bruining, Black
Latino Bruce L. Burgos, African-Americans Cheryl Clarke,
Dorothy Randall Gray, and Donald Woods; the white poets also
a class and ethnic brew: Italian-American Rachel Guido de
Vries, Catholic Charles Frederick, Portuguese-American David
Trinidad, Jewish- Americans Margaret Randall and Susan Sher-
man. Listening to the poets, you could recognize that some had
been working the craft longer, some had not yet stretched them-
selves to the fullest, some were old hands at reading to an audi-
ence, some just beginning. But the mix of the evening created
by these different and sometimes conflicting voices was heady,
and so was the mix of the audience — in age, sexuality, color —an
audience intense in its Hstening in spite of hangings and clashings
from the kitchen area or interference from police walkie-talkies

What the poets had in common, above and beyond poetry
itself, or sexuaHty itself, was each one's stance of claiming a foot-

hold, a platform, a voice among all the voices purporting to
speak or sing of North American existence. For none of them
could such a foothold be taken for granted; but if certain poetics

had excluded them, they were bent on finding others to reveal
what it is to be part of the city, part of this republic, as dark-

skinned, female, half-assimilated Jew, SiciUan, erotically at risk,

legally at risk, living in the face of gay bashing, racism, AIDS.
There was poetry of mourning, accusation, high erotic comedy,
rehgious heresy, wild fantasy, some banahty (almost always miti-
The space for poetry | 39

gated somehow by the poet's own reading style), and several
poems of shattering originality, sounding Hke nothing but them-
selves. Wide as the social, political, aesthetic differences were
among the poets and among us, their hearers, a community arose
in that undertaking; under harsh lights, with a sometimes way-
ward mike, poetry Hved, pulling us toward each other.
And perhaps this is the hope: that poetry can keep its mechan-
ical needs simple, its head clear of the fumes of how "success" is

concocted in the capitals of promotion, marketing, consumer-
ism, and in particular of the competition —taught in the schools,
abetted at home — that pushes the "star" at the expense of the
culture as a whole, that makes people want stardom rather than
participation, association, exchange, and improvisation with
others. Perhaps this is the hope: that poetry, by its nature, will
never become leashed to profit, marketing, consumerism.

How does a poet put
bread on the table?

But how does a poet put bread on the table? Rarely, if ever, by
poetry alone. Of the four lesbian poets at the Nuyorican Poets
Cafe about w^hose lives I know something, one directs an under-
funded community arts project, two are untenured college
teachers, one an assistant dean of students at a state university. Of
other poets I know, most teach, often part time, without security

but year round; two are on disability; one does clerical work;
one cleans houses; one is a paid organizer; one has a paid editing

job. Whatever odd money comes in erratically from readings
and workshops, grants, permissions fees, royalties, prizes can be
very odd money indeed, never to be counted on and almost
always small: checks have to be chased down, grants become
fewer and more competitive in a worsening political and eco-
How does a poet put bread on the table? | 41

nomic climate. Most poets who teach at universities are un-
tenured, without pension plans or group health insurance, or are
employed at public and community colleges with heavy teach-
ing loads and low salaries. Many give unpaid readings and work-
shops as part of their political "tithe."

Inherited wealth accounts for the careers of some poets: to

inherit wealth is to inherit time. Most of the poets I know,
hearing of a sum of money, translate it not into possessions, but
into time — that precious immaterial necessity of our lives. It's

true that a poem can be attempted in brief interstitial moments,
pulled out of the pocket and worked on while waiting for a bus

or riding a train or while children nap or while waiting for a new
batch of clerical work or blood samples to come in. But only
certain kinds of poems are amenable to these conditions. Some-
times the very knowledge of coming interruption dampens the
flicker. And there is a difference between the ordinary "free"
moments stolen from exhausting family strains, from alienating
labor, from thought chained by material anxiety, and those other
moments that sometimes arrive in a life being lived at its height
though under extreme tension: perhaps we are waiting to initi-

ate some we believe will catalyze change but whose outcome

is we are facing personal or communal crisis
uncertain; perhaps
in which everything unimportant seems to fall away and we are
left with our naked lives, the brevity of life itself, and words. At
such times we may experience a speeding-up of our imaginative
powers, images and voices rush together in a kind of inevitabil-
ity, what was externally fragmented is internally reorganized,

and the hand can barely keep pace.
But such moments presuppose other times: when we could
simply stare into the wood grain of a door, or the trace of bub-
bles in a glass of water as long as we wanted to, almost secure in
the knowledge that there would be no interruption — times of
slowness, of purposelessness.
42 I
What Is Found There

Often such time feels like a luxury, guiltily seized when it can
be had, fearfully taken because it does not seem like work, this

abeyance, but like "wasting time" in a society where personal
importance —even job security —can hinge on acting busy,
where the phrase "keeping busy" is a common idiom, where
there is, for activists, so much to be done.
Most, if not all, of the names we know in North American
poetry are the names of people who have had some access to
freedom in time — that privilege of some which is actually a ne-

cessity for all. The struggle to Hmit the working day is a sacred

struggle for the worker's freedom in time. To feel herself or
himself, for a few hours or a weekend, as a free being with
choices — to plant vegetables and later sit on the porch with a

cold beer, to write poetry or build a fence or fish or play cards, to
walk without a purpose, to make love in the daytime. To sleep

late. Ordinary human pleasures, the self s re-creation. Yet every
working generation has to reclaim that freedom in time, and
many are brutally thwarted in the effort. Capitalism is based on
the abridgment of that freedom.
Poets in the United States have either had some kind of pri-
vate means, or help from people with private means, have held

full-time, consuming jobs, or have chosen to work in low-pay-
ing, part-time sectors of the economy, saving their creative ener-
gies for poetry, keeping their material wants simple. Interstitial

Hving, where the art itself is not expected to bring in much
money, where the artist may move from a clerical job to part-
time, temporary teaching to subsistence living on the land to

waitressing or doing construction or translating, typesetting, or
ghostwriting. In the 1990s this kind of interstitial living is more
difficult, risky, and wearing than it has ever been, and this is a loss

to all the arts — as much as the shrinkage of arts funding, the
censorship-by-clique, the censorship by the Right, the censor-
ship by distribution.
The muralist

I wish you would write a poem . . . addressed to those who, in
consequence of the complete failure of the French Revolution, have
thrown up all hopes of the ameUoration of mankind, and are sinking into
an almost epicurean selfishness, disguising the same under the soft titles of
domestic attachment and contempt for visionary philosophes.
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge
to William Wordsworth (1799)

These were things which I myself saw in my childhood. If, however, I

were to relate what I heard of in those years, it would be a much more
gruesome narrative: stories of men and women torn from their families
and their villages, and sold, or lost in gambling, or exchanged for a couple
of hunting dogs, and then transported to some remote part of Russia for
the sake of creating a new estate; of children taken from their parents and
sold to cruel or dissolute masters; of flogging "in the stables" which
occurred every day with unheard-of cruelty; of a girl who found her only

salvation in drowning herself; of an old man who had grown gray-haired
in his master's service, and at last hanged himself under his master's

window; . . . revolts by serfs . . . suppressed by Nicholas I's generals by
flogging to death each tenth or fifth man taken out of the ranks, and by
laying waste the village, whose inhabitants, after a military execution,
went begging for bread in the neighboring provinces. As to the poverty
which I saw during our journeys in certain villages, especially in those
44 I
What Is Found There

which belonged to the imperial family, no words would be adequate to
describe the misery to readers who have not seen it.

To become free was the constant dream of the serfs.

—Peter Kropotkin, Memoirs
of a Revolutionist (1899)

Tonight I spoke with my friend the muralist, who, unHke me,
makes her art collectively, who says of the work she's currently

doing: "We have all the poHtical elements there and agreed-
on — I'm still struggling to fmd a way to make it beautiful." She

doesn't mean simply harmonious or attractive, though she makes
art that people love to look at as they go through their neighbor-
hoods, art they can recognize their hves in, the difficulty and the
beauty. She means that the work shall not be merely logical, of
the presently known, but that it shall radiate another dimension,
beyond "all the poHtical elements . . . agreed-on."
I tell her, I've been reading Trotsky on revolutionary art. I'll

send you some passages.
Right now I see my friend and myself walking out on differ-

ent, parallel, wooden piers into darkness, star-mixed fog above
our heads, in the loneliness and community of our questions.
She, whose monumental works, planned out and executed with
many on walls, inside buildings, from San
others, are visible

Francisco to Managua to East Jerusalem and the occupied terri-
tories. I, whose words come into permanence in slow soHtude,

whose poems begin on scraps of paper but whose images, Hke
hers, are mined from dreams, snatches of conversation, street

music, headlines, history, love, collective action.
Here are some of the passages from Trotsky I sent her:

The struggle for revolutionary ideas in art must begin once again
with the struggle for artistic truth, not in terms of any single

The muralist |

school, but in terms of the immutable faith of the artist in his [sic] own
inner self. Without this there is no art. "You shall not lie!" — that is

the formula of salvation.

From the point of view of an objective historical process, art is

always a social servant and historically utilitarian. It finds the nec-
essary rhythm of words for dark and murky moods, it brings

thought and feeling closer or contrasts them with each other, it

enriches the spiritual experience of the individual and the com-
munity, it refines feeling, makes it more flexible, more respon-
sive, it enlarges the volume of thought in advance and not
through the personal method of accumulation of experience, it

educates the individual, the social group, the class and the nation.

And it does this quite independently of whether it appears in a
given case under the flag of a "pure" or of a frankly tendentious

The effort to set art free from life, to declare it a craft sufficient

unto itself, devitalizes and kills art.

One cannot approach art as one can politics, not because artistic

creation is a religious rite or something mystical . . . but because it

has its own laws of development, and above all because in artistic

creation an enormous role is played by subconscious processes
slower, more idle and less subjected to management and guid-
ance, just because they are subconscious.

Amid all the public cheering over the "death of socialism" I

wanted to go back to the revolutionary thinkers of the nine-
teenth and early twentieth centuries, to refresh my mind as to

what they had envisioned, however the visions were betrayed,
from within and from without, and whatever crimes had been
committed in sociaHsm's name. In particular I wanted to find out
46 I
What Is Found There

how those men and women thought about art and the freedom
of art, how they beUeved it was interwoven with the creation of
new relationships woman and man,
between man and man,
woman and woman. was suspicious of the cartoons of "socialist

reaHsm" floating in my head. The figures of Ding Ling, of Man-
delstam, exiled and doing forced labor for their words —were
these truly the harvest of sociaHsm? I did not want the current
times, with their images of faUing walls and slogans about a "new
world order," to wash out for me all continuity with revolutions
of the past and the hopes they had touched in so many nerves. I

knew that for Marx himself. Communism had never meant less

than the means for freeing human creativity in all persons to the
fullest: he believed that the release of that very creativity would
ensure that no revolution turned in on itself, stagnated, and
froze; that in "revolution in permanence," "new passions and
new forces" would repeatedly arise as the creative currents of
each and all found voice. You could say that the passion for
human creativity forced Marx into the study of how Capital, by
its own internal laws, had suppressed the flow of human activity

and passions.

I knew, yet needed to remind myself, that the old theorists of
socialism —and the artists of responsiveness and responsibility
had a far more complex sense of the interplay between the artist

and society than have either the arts administrators of capitalism
or the Central Committees of Moscow or Beijing.

It is one thing to understand something and express it logically,

and quite another to assimilate it organically, reconstructing the

whole system of one's feelings, and to find a new kind of artistic
expression for this new entity.

You could derive from Trotsky's assertion, that an "engaged"
or "committed" art, an art critical of society, the kind of art

The muralist | 47

usually labeled "political" in the United States, is bad (when it is

bad) not because it is engaged, but because it is not engaged

enough: when it tries to express what has been logically under-
stood but not yet organically assimilated.

There is a kind of political poetry that does not surprise the
poet, in which the poet foresees and controls the poem's devel-
opment according to an ideology of theme and even style — the
poem as propaganda for revolt, for a specific revolutionary pro-
gram, for a new kind of consciousness. Bertolt Brecht, Ruben
Dario, Pablo Neruda all wrote such poems, and such poems can
be very good indeed: an example would be Thomas McGrath's

During a war the poets turn to war
In praise of the merit of the death of the ball-turret gunner.

It is well arranged: each in his best manner
One bleeds, one blots — as they say, it has happened before.

After a war, who has news for the poet?

If sunrise is Easter, noon is his winey tree.

Evening arrives like a postcard from his true country.

And the seasons shine and sing. Each has its note

In the song of the man in his room in his house remembering
The ancient airs. It is good. But is it good
That he should rise once to his song on the fumes of blood
As a ghost to his meat? Should rise so, once, in anger

And then no more? Now the footsteps ring on the stone
The Lost Man of the century is coming home from his work.
48 I
What Is Found There

"They are fighting, fighting" —Oh, yes. But somewhere else.

In the dark.

The poet reads by firelight as the nations burn.

Poets write against war, then in "peacetime" turn to their per-
sonal themes and melodies; the struggle of the working man
(and, in this poem too, the working woman) goes on unsung,
invisible, although this too is a war burning the nations. The
poem is hortatory, addressed to poets: What is missing from your

poems? (The poet who actually wrote the poem entitled "The
Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner" was Randall Jarrell, whose
poems about bomber pilots in World War II are powerful evo-
cations of the meaninglessness of war. Jarrell himself both served

in the war and wrote about it.) But it also reaches beyond poets
to the readers who do not grasp what is missing, who accept
conventional definitions of "war" and "peace." It could be read
as a socialist manifesto about the proper themes for poetry. But it

is much more than this thanks to McGrath's changes of tone, the
drama of contrasts he creates, the long run-on Hnes of the third
stanza, which pour over into the fourth, the different voices

arguing within the poem.
My friend the muralist writes back to me: / have some thoughts

on the subject of beauty unlocking hate and fear.

Some days, as Iwork on this book, I hear voices from within
that tell me this work is not real activism, political though it may
be.On other days, when I also go to a meeting, or write and mail
out a memo responding to other memos from a collective, or
edit another woman's article on coalition building for a grass-

roots journal, or drive to a nearby city to read in a political
The muralist |

benefit, or write to a foundation in support of a grass-roots pro-
ject, I don't hear such voices. When I'm writing poetry, and
often when reading it, the voices fade away as the old integrative
powers rush together: it's as if the process of poetry itself tempo-
rarily releases me into that realm of human power which Marx
said is its own end. By "human power," he meant the opposite
of possessive, exploitative power: the power to engender, to
create, to bring forth fuller Hfe. Chances and privileges of birth
early gave me a foothold in that realm, so that, making poems,
even as a child, I came to experience flashes of that kind of
power. And finally to thirst for it everywhere.
Working with others to plan a demonstration, draft and dis-
tribute a flier, write a collective pamphlet, set up a conference, is

a different mode of creation, and its purposes — to dispense infor-

mation, to dispel disinformation, to create a collective under-
standing of the meaning of events and facts — require a different
mode of language. Yet the same thirst lies underneath, and the
same need for a taproot into the imagination. Politics is imagina-
tion or it is a treadmill — disintegrative, stifling, fmally brutaliz-

ing —or ineffectual.

There is a happiness in creation that is not without its own
pain and struggle, a sensation that feels sometimes buoyant and
sometimes earthbound, sometimes like Hghting fires in snow,
sometimes like untying knots in which you have been bound.
New questions, new problems— of shape, of strategy, of materi-
als, and, yes, of purpose —unfold even as you unlock present
difficulties. There is a happiness in finding what will work simulta-
neously with the discovery oi what it works for, which has often
been reduced to separate issues of "form" and "content." Denise
Levertov describes how
50 I
What Is Found There

in organic poetry the form sense or "traffic sense," ... is ever
present along with . . . fidelity to the revelations of meditation.
The form sense is a sort of Stanislavsky of the imagination: putting

a chair two feet downstage there, thickening a knot of bystanders
upstage left, getting this actor to raise his voice a little and that
actress to enter more slowly; all in the interest of the total form he
intuits. Or it is a sort of helicopter scout flying over the field of the
poem, taking aerial photos and reporting on the state of the forest
and its creatures —or over the sea to watch for the schools of

herring and direct the fishing fleet toward them.

This partnership of unconscious and conscious work can also
happen in collectivity. And the happiness I'm speaking of, which
knows itself as part of a continually unfolding process, which can
never be complacent, is what I imagine true revolution would
look Uke: subjectivity and objectivity, vision and technology,
together inventing conditions for the spontaneous imaginative
hfe of all of us.

The great sculptor and printmaker Elizabeth Catlett, speaking

fi-om the authority of her artistic development:

We work alone but we also work with and for others, and it is

expressed by two words: one is "solitarity," in which we create

out of what is in us, from our innermost feelings, ideas, emotions,

knowledge — all of this combined in other elements also; we also

create from "solidarity," which is what we have in our innermost
selves that comes from what we have gotten from our sohdarity
with other people. I always feel that collective thought is better

than individual thought. There's the give-and-take and coming
The muralist |

together and a separating that are very important in developing


Among other things, I learned that my sculpture and my prints
had to be based on the needs of people. These needs determine
what I do. Some artists say they express themselves: they just

reflect their environment. We all live in a given moment in his-

tory and what we do reflects what level we are on in that moment.
You must, as an artist, consciously determine where your own
level is.

Consciously [to] determine where your own level is. By "level" I

believe Catlett means at least two things: first, the artist's posi-
tioning in society — Is the sculptor an African- American woman
who had access to educational privileges along with the assaults

of racism? Is the poet a white male heir to one of the great early
twentieth-century American fortunes? Where did the poet fmd
her first poem? Did a classically grounded Catholic schooling
mitigate his poverty? When did the child ever meet a living artist
or poet? Was the art of his people's tradition disparaged or ac-
claimed? Did she work as a nude model to pay for painting

lessons? Did his mother wash other people's floors? And what
efl^ect has any of these, or other, contingencies on the practice of
eye, ear, perception that is the basis for making art? What can be
seen from any of these levels? What is hidden? Does the artist,

the poet, know to ask such a question?

But also your own level of responsiveness, of responsibility, to
what lies around you. To say that a poet is responsive, responsi-
ble —what can that mean? To me it means that she or he is free

to become artistically most complex, serious, and integrated
when most aware of the great questions of her, of his, own time.
When the mind of the maker is stretched to the fullest by the
demands of the time —not fads, vogues, cliques, chic, propa-
52 I
What Is Found There

ganda, but the deep messages of crisis, hope, despair, vision, the
anonymous voices, that pulse through a human community as
signs of imbalance, sickness, regeneration pulse through a human

When Catlett says You must, as an artist, consciously determine

where your own level is, I believe she is speaking on behalf of art.
Just as if she said You must, as a sculptor, consciously become aware of
the properties and difficulties of many kinds of wood, of metals, kinds of
stone, clay. You must become responsive, responsible, to the

The painter and poet Michele Gibbs expands still further on
Catlett's "levels":

Choosing to be an artist (ie a distiller and creator rather than an
imitator, copyist, critic, or technician) is, itself, a level. Then arise

questions of:

i) what are you calling attention to?

2) what energy/action does your creation feed?
3) what reach will your creations (voice/images) have; &
where are you directing their force?

4) what counts for connection?

The more all-encompassing one's consciousness, needless to say,

the greater the burden of intentionality and the more company
one seeks. The issue of connection, ie, verifying the authenticity of

one's vision by the responses and parallel/complementary cre-

ation of others, implies the centrality o£ communality in the artistic


This process of building community, of course, begins from
the self outward . . . but culminates in new possibilities for the

personality only through intimate bonding (immersion) in the

great movements of people in one's time and a commitment to
The muralist |

respond to the daily needs of those human beings closest to us (ie,

not just "the people," but "my sister Edna's son Che,") also
caught in those movements.
With specific reference to poetry ... it seems to me that the

most integrative social power contained in words is liberated in

performance. . . . For me, it is the activist & spoken element which
follows on the contemplative act of composition which is most
capable of vitalizing folk.

Do I envy my friend the muralist? On some days, yes: I imag-
ine she, at least, must feel no division between her art and action.

On others, I realize that the social fragmentation of poetry from
life has itself been one of the materials that demanded evolution
in my poetic methods, continually pushed at me to devise lan-

guage and images that could refute the falsely framed choices:
ivory tower or barricades, intuition or documentary fact, the
search for beauty or the search for justice. (Of course a change in
poetic methods means other kinds of change as well.)

When I can pull it together, I work in soHtude surrounded by
community, solitude in dialogue with community, solitude that
alternates with collective work. The poetry and the actions of
fiiends and strangers pass through the membranes of that soli-

tude. This kind of worklife means vigilance, for the old defini-

tions of "inner" and "outer" still lurk in me and I still feel the

pull of false choices wrenching me sometimes this way, some-
times that. But if we hope to mend the fragmentation of poetry
from life, and for the sake of poetry itself, it's not enough to lie

awake, in Lillian Smith's words, listening only to the sound of
our own heartbeat in the dark.
The hermit's scream
He said I had this that I could love,
As one loves visible and responsive peace,
As one loves one's own being,
As one loves that which is the end
And must be loved, as one loves that

Of which one is a part as in a unity,

A unity that is the life one loves,

So that one lives all the lives that comprise it

As the Hfe of the fatal unity of war.
—Wallace Stevens, "Yellow Afternoon"

I am a failure then, as the kind of revolutionary Anne-Marion and her
acquaintances were. (Though in fact she had heard of nothing
revolutionary this group had done, since she left them ten summers ago.
Anne-Marion, she knew, had become a well-known poet whose poems
were about her two children, and the quahty of the light that fell across a

lake she owned.)
— ^Alice Walker, Meridian

I've been haunted by a poem, apparently as simple as a ballad and
with a ballad's appeal of timelessness. It's by EKzabeth Bishop, a

white North American with middle-class roots. Orphaned and
The hermit's scream |

deracinated as a child, she grew up as a lesbian, a traveler-exile,

Hving a significant part of her life in Brazil. She's not thought of
as a political poet by most people who admire her; she's most
often praised as a poet of minute observation and description.
The poem is called "Chemin de Fer":

Alone on the railroad track

I walked with pounding heart.

The ties were too close together

or maybe too far apart.

The scenery was impoverished:

scrub-pine and oak; beyond

its mingled gray-green foliage
I saw the little pond

where the dirty hermit lives,

lie like an old tear
holding onto its injuries

lucidly year after year.

The hermit shot off his shot-gun

and the tree by his cabin shook.
Over the pond went a ripple.

The pet hen went chook-chook.

"Love should be put into action!"

screamed the old hermit.
Across the pond an echo
tried and tried to confirm it.

Love might be put into action by firing a gun, yes — at whom?
In what extremity?
56 I
What Is Found There

The gun in this poem, Hke a real gun, might be fired out of
despair at love's inaction, passivity, inertness, abuses, neglect. It's

a "dirty hermit" who fires the shotgun at nothing in particular,
w^ho screams at no one in particular the ethical imperative "Love
should be put into action!" Someone long isolate, outside com-
munity, who like the pond has been "holding onto [his] injuries/
lucidly year after year."And who is the other character in the
poem, the narrator of all this? Someone alone, whose heart is

pounding, walking the road of iron, the railroad track, the hobo
track —
a child trying to run away from home? turned out from

home? someone, in any case, who still hasn't gotten far from
home, who has known this landscape the pond, the hermit's —
cabin year after year. Someone needing to get far away, some-

one whose eyes have seen, perhaps, destruction of community,
preventable disintegration, a child of loss, emigration, passive
neglect, intrafamilial violations; someone not yet, but poten-
tially, a hobo or a dirty hermit. A someone who legion across is

the globe. For whom the hermit's scream, the shout of the shot-
gun, might be relief in a scene of enormous, unnameable tension
and impoverishment. But there is nothing lonelier-sounding or
more futile than an echo, and the poem ends with this.*
What does it take for the walker on the railroad track to

become not a hobo or a hermit, but an artist and/or an activist?
What would it mean to put love into action in the face of love-
lessness, abandonment, or violation? Where do we find, in or

around us, love — the imagination that can subvert despair or the
futile firing of a gun? What teaches us to convert lethal anger
into steady, serious attention to our own lives and those of oth-
ers? What, in North America in the 1990s, are we given to help
us ask these questions — the language of therapy groups, of

*James Merrill comments that "to anyone who has known love the merest hint
of ties grown unmanageable will suffice." I agree.
The hermit's scream | 57

twelve-Step programs, of bleached speech? I continue to hear the
dirty hermit's scream and to want it to become a general cry.

What is political activism, anyway? I've been asking myself.
It's something both prepared for and spontaneous — like mak-
ing poetry.
When we do and think and feel certain things privately and in
secret, even when thousands of people are doing, thinking,
whispering these things privately and in secret, there is still no
general, collective understanding from which to move. Each
takes her or his risks in isolation. We may think of ourselves as

individual rebels, and individual rebels can easily be shot down.
The relationship among so many feelings remains unclear. But
these thoughts and feelings, suppressed and stored-up and whis-
pered, have an incendiary component. You cannot tell where or
how they will connect, spreading underground from rootlet to
rootlet till every grass blade is afire from every other. This is that

"spontaneity" which party "leaders," secret governments, and
closed systems dread. Poetry, in its own way, is a carrier of the
sparks, because it too comes out of silence, seeking connection
with unseen others.

I think at this point of my friend Barbara Deming, her life of
commitment to nonviolent political action, her active claiming

of her untimely death from cancer. Who walked "for peace," no
doubt with pounding heart, on an interracial march through the
segregated South in 1964 and found herself in jail —not about
peace, but about racism. Who walked with women from the
Seneca Peace Encampment in 1983, fmding herself and the oth-
58 I
What Is Found There

ers confronted by a hostile mob—-jeered not on grounds of
peace or nuclear arms, but as Jews/Communists/lesbians. Who
spoke and wrote about nonviolence, named the repressed mur-
derous anger within the nonviolence movement, made room for
the revolutionary possibility of killing without hating, out of
tragic necessity, though she felt it "blurred the vision" of a world
in which all had the right to Uve. Who had an income that

permitted her to devote her life to activism, though many might
have used that freedom differently. Who for years felt con-
strained, like so many others, to hide her love for women, her
desire, in the very movements calling for fundamental change in
human relationships, whose anger at those years of self-denial
was great, who tried to distinguish between anger as "affliction"

and anger as "the concentration of one's whole being in the
determination: This must change." I think of her because,
though the peace movement as she knew it could be simplistic,
she herself was not simplistic. I want to keep her lanky, earthy,
elegant, erotic, amused, keenly attentive presence in mind even
as I know that if alive today she would perforce be stretching
the limits of her imagination, her definitions of peace, war, vio-

Because I know that for Barbara, as for many others then
committed to nonviolent direct action, it was all about the con-
nections between love and action. The marches and sit-ins were,
have been, not — as some propaganda of later decades would
have it —mere eruptions of youthful excitement. As Barbara
herself wrote of nonviolent direct action, it was way of living

the future in the present, treating hostile adversaries as human

beings like yourself, respecting them even as you tried to change
their minds. Each nonviolent demonstrator, as she propounded
it, had to embody in her or his own person the respect of one
being for another that "after the revolution" would become the
basis for human society. This was Hterally one-on-one commu-

The hermit's scream |

nication, the demonstrator gone limp, being dragged by poHce,
trying to keep eye contact, trying to hold on to a distinction

between the role of the police enforcer or National Guardsman
or prison guard, and the person inside the uniform. Between the
hostile mob and the individuals within it, their fears and unmet
needs. But the preparation for this was the creation of a group in

which the like-minded were bound with ties of love and of
attention to one another. The hope was that action informed by
the love of justice and of the actual human being could change
the perceptions of those at whom the actions were directed
could teach by example.
I wrote "hope" but I should say more accurately "faith." Not
in the sense of religious faith, though some who practice nonvi-

olence in action do so as members of religious groups. And not
in the dictionary's other sense —of "unquestioning belief" Bar-
bara herself was always questioning; she was one of the leading
critics of the peace movement from within, as a feminist, as a

lesbian, as a white person who learned much from Black acti-

vists. An activist's faith can never be unquestioning, can never
stop responding to "new passions and new forces," can never
oversimplify, as believers and activists are often tempted or pres-
sured to do.
The Gulf War, which Barbara did not live to see, brought into
high relief certain reaHties that had been long in the making. It

revealed the invasions of Grenada in 1983, of Panama in 1989, as
rehearsals, war games, dressed in a rhetorical language of rescue
and the deposition of a monster. Manipulative images — a cru-
sade against a new monster, a "butcher" (recently our client in
the arms trade) —were used to camouflage in 1991 the fact that

the invention, manufacture, and sale, not of nuclear arms but
of the most dazzlingly refmed "conventional" weapons, have
become the lifeblood of global capitalism. The "arms race" is

really the ancient race for the gold for which men have always
6o I
What Is Found There

killed each other: a false economy based on amis production and
arms selling. Arsenal building for profit, legal and illegal, plays off
old and new nationalisms and ideologies, while a more and more
sophisticated weaponry allows both for the closing down of old
military bases and the reduction of nuclear arms. These new
"conventional" weapons, after all, have the cumulative power
of a nuclear bomb to paralyze a city or a country without appar-

ently laying it waste. A "third way" has been found between
long-drawn-out ground war and instant nuclear devastation —or
so it would seem. Cleaner, quicker, safer, more surgical wars? A
unity that is the life one loves?

Less than a decade before the bombing of Baghdad, the Swed-
ish feminist and social reformer Alva Myrdal, accepting her
Nobel Peace Prize, had connected the arms race and "its need-
less excesses of armaments and its aggressive rhetoric" with "an
ominous cult of violence in contemporary societies," which
were "in the process of being both militarized and brutalized.
Because of the tremendous and needless proliferation of arms
through production and export, sophisticated weapons were
now freely available on the domestic market as well, right down
to handguns and stilettoes. . . . And she singled out the powerful

role of the mass media in promoting violence, most of all among
the young," while "Western exporting of films and TV pro-
grams worked in tandem with the arms trade to saturate the

Third World in patterns of brutality."*
Barbara Deming sought to effect change by the most grass-

*She might have traced these "patterns of brutahry," exported by the West back
to the slave trade and coloniahsm, and the films and TV programs promoting
violence, to earlier Western cultural texts depicting people of color as apes, mon-
sters, subhuman, needing subjugation.
The hermit's scream |

roots and personal means: a walk for disarmament through small
towns, dialogues with people met along the way, or in prison
cells, handing out leaflets, arguing with comrades in the North
American peace and women's movements, civil disobedience.
Alva Myrdal tried to use institutions like the International Labor
Organization and UNESCO, her position as Sweden's ambassa-
dor to India, her contacts in the worlds of diplomacy and inter-
national poHtics, to achieve a rechanneling of global resources
from war into social and economic development. Her allies were
men of power: Dag Hammarskjold, Nehru, and, in some ways,
her husband, Gunnar Myrdal.
Both Deming and Myrdal were feminists and saw along a

spectrum of social violence that had nuclear annihilation as its

extreme. Barbara Deming chose toward the end of her life to

focus on a women's peace movement that connected militarism
with transnational violence by men against women. Alva Myrdal
wanted to use her Nobel prize —both the visibility and the
money it provided — to create a high-powered international
"antiviolence" movement that would hold to account the
"propagandizers and profiteers of violence" and the use of vio-
lence for power and profit throughout social institutions, includ-

ing the family.
"Nonviolence," "antiviolence." The feebleness of the lan-
guage, however passionate the determination, tells us some-
thing. Violence is what looks out at us from those phrases: its

expressionless or grinning face is what we see, not what it dis-

places. War goes on demanding its "fatal unity." What face has

"visible and responsive peace"? What does it mean, to put love

into action? Why do I go on as if poetry has any answers to that

Peace I have feared you hated you scuffed dirt

on what little of you I could bear near me
6 2 I
What Is Found There

scorned you called you vicious names Every time
you have settled over an afternoon
a friendship a night walk my brow my sleep

I have lashed free of your desolate island
back to the familiar continent
Coward I have watched you buckle under
nightsticks and fire hoses You have
disgusted me slipping flowers into guns

holding hands with yourself singing to bullets
and dogs Who can speak your language but
animals and saints What history records

your triumphs Over what centuries
have you reigned Miasma Where are the stone

lists of those who have died in your name
In the land where you are loved what becomes
of the veterans of all against all How
will I clothe myself How will I eat How

will I teach my children whom to respect

how to find themselves on a map of the world
when I have so seldom seen your face

Tell me Bloodless Outlaw Phantom what is
the work of the belligerent in

your anarchic kingdom Where is my place
— Suzanne Gardinier, "To Peace"

"There is not a real poet alive today, or for some time past,

who would do what Homer did even if he/she could, or Virgil
or the author of the Chanson de Roland or the Shakespeare of
the chronicles — the glorification of war and conquest. The re-
fusal to do so is precisely at the heart of poetic (and existential)

heroism as we have come to understand it," writes the poet

Hayden Carruth. For centuries, people reading Fiomer's Iliad

took it, along with the Fiebrew Bible (also filled with poetry and
The hermit's scream |

scenes of battle) as a poetic starting gate, a point of origins for
Western civilization. In the poem just quoted, Suzanne Gar-
dinier speaks through the spirit of violence as it has thrashed its

way through history, not the violence of the powerful so much
as the violence of those who have fought and bled in the service
of power, "the veterans of all against all," "the belligerent" hat-
ing peace because unable to see how it can ever include them; or
those who have grown up knowing that violent resistance is the
only way The questions of the poem need concern
to stay alive.

all those who condemn violence, who place themselves beyond
its seductions.
About the Iliad as a kind of cultural ancestry for citizens of the
United States, Gardinier has written:

By content, the Iliad is not the epic of slaves, nor of those who
hold the earth sacred, nor of those who . . . deeply value words at

all, as sacred vessels, as anything more than the ritual preludes to
battle. It is the epic of soldiers, and of the cultures whose . . . sense

of connection to a universe that is whole has been broken, whose
peace is the interval between wars. As such, it is clearly one of our
ancestors, whether we hold this country's sword of power or live

at its point. Whether or not it is this one among all the others to

whom we will pledge allegiance remains to be seen.

She suggests other possible ancestors:

As residents of the Western Hemisphere, we might claim the
Mayan Popol Vuh, or some yet un-knit Nahuatl sequence —or the
Delaware Big House Ceremony set down, or the Mohawk Ritual
of Condolence, or the story of the peace made among the Five
Nations of the Iroquois. As residents of the United States, we
might claim Leaves of Grass —or sew together and claim the folk

tales and songs with the story of the survival of slavery in them, as
64 I
What Is Found There

the Finns made their Kalevala in the last century from what peas-
ants remember.

In the nineteenth century some people attended military

battles as spectators, watching hve war through telescopes and
field glasses. Today we view airbrushed images of war's tech-
nological beauty on our television screens. And at Revolution-
ary or Civil War battle sites, becalmed on the landscape as na-
tional monuments, amateurs of history annually reenact old

charges and routs in full period military costume. Perhaps
these theatrics can distract from, or console for, the knowledge
that at the end of the twentieth century there is no demilita-
rized zone, no line dividing war from peace, that the ghettos

and barrios of peacetime live under paramilitary occupation,
that prisoners are being taken and incarcerated at an accelerat-
ing rate, that the purchase of guns has become an overwhelm-
ing civilian response to perceived fractures in the social com-

Almost twenty years ago I was teaching in a pubHc college in

Harlem where many of my colleagues and students were poets.

Walking up to Convent Avenue from Broadway, and in the

classroom, I saw much that became part of my own education,
having to do with the daily struggle of poor African- Americans
and Puerto Ricans to live and, if possible, to love and, where
possible, to put love into action. Somewhere in that time, in

response to the turning-away by a Brooklyn hospital of a Black
youth struck by a city bus, my colleague June Jordan wrote a
grief-stricken, bitter, and lyrical poem:
The hermit's scream | 65

(October 25, 1959-March 23, 1973)

So Brooklyn has become a holy place

the streets have turned to meadowland


eat among the wild



growing there
Please do not forget.

A tiger does not fall or stumble
broken by an accident.
A tiger does not lose his stride or
slip and slide to tragedy

that buzzards feast upon.

Do not forget.
The Black prince Michael Black boy
our younger brother
has not "died"

has not "passed away"
the Black prince Michael Black boy
our younger brother
He was killed.
He did not die.
It was the city took him off
(that city bus)
66 I
What Is Found There

and smashed him suddenly

to death


It was the city took him off
the hospital

that turned him down the hospital

that turned away from so much beauty

in Black struggle
just to live.

It was the city took him off
the casket names and faces

of the hatred spirit

stripped the force the

laughter and the agile power
of the child
He did not die.

A tiger does not fall.
Do not forget.

The streets have turned to meadowland


eat among the wild



growing there
The hermit's scream |

and Brooklyn
has become a holy place.

It took me years to hear the double-edge, the double- voiced-

ness, of this poem, which sounded to me so apparently musical,

sorrowful, and courteous an admonition: Please do not forget. I

read that admonition as being for me, for white readers, rather
than for the community to which the poet and the dead child

belonged. So Brooklyn has become a holy place: I heard this in the

same tone at the beginning and end of the poem. Only after

years of experience, politics, conversations, listening, I heard the
caustic engrained anger of the first question. So Brooklyn has

become a holy place? the question mark omitted but the subtext

clear: You're telling me? these things just happen naturally? that

wild free ponies of Black urban youth just pass away? Race came
between me and full reading of the poem: I wanted to believe

the poet was elegaic, not furious; she sets the "Please" in the
midst of the poem, which plays into my reading. But it isn't that

kind of "Please" at all, rather the "Please" of the member of the
community who strides into the church service where perhaps
the facts are about to be buried with the victim.
By the end of the poem become a requiem.
the same Hnes
Having parsed the realities of Michael Angelo Thompson's
death, the poet's voice allows him his transcendence: his death
sacramentalizes the city that "took him off"; Brooklyn is made
holy by and to him. The poem becomes both documentation
and ritual whereby the first lines translate into the last Hnes,

bitterness and fury into recommitment.
"Peace" is not the issue here, but the violent structures of
urban class and racial power. The poem is a skin —luminous and
resonant — stretched across a repetitive history of Black chil-
dren's deaths in the cities, in a country that offers them neither
68 I
What Is Found There

hope nor respite. In the face of this violence, apparently so ac-
ceptable and ordinary, poets are forced to remind us not to for-
get. And Jordan herself went on to become one of the most
lyrical of activist poets.

The difference between poetry and rhetoric
is being
ready to kill


instead of your children.

I am trapped on a desert of raw gunshot wounds
and a dead child dragging his shattered black
face off the edge of my sleep
blood from his punctured cheeks and shoulders
is the only liquid for miles and my stomach
chums at the imagined taste while
my mouth splits into dry lips

without loyalty or reason
thirsting for the wetness of his blood
as it sings into the whiteness

of the desert where I am lost
without imagery or magic
trying to make power out of hatred and destruction

trying to heal my dying son with kisses
only the sun will bleach his bones quicker.

The policeman who shot down a lo-year-old in Queens
stood over the boy with his cop shoes in childish blood
and a voice said "Die you Httle motherfucker" and
there are tapes to prove that. At his trial
The hermit's scream | 69

this policeman said in his own defense
"I didn't notice the size or nothing else

only the color." and
there are tapes to prove that, too.

Today that 37-year-old white man with 13 years of police forcing
has been set free

by 1 1 white men who said they were satisfied

justice had been done
and one black woman who said

"They convinced me" meaning
they had dragged her 4' 10" black woman's frame
over the hot coals of four centuries of white male approval
until she let go the first real power she ever had
and lined her own womb with cement
to make a graveyard for our children.

I have not been able to touch the destruction within me.
But unless I learn to use

the difference between poetry and rhetoric
my power too will run corrupt as poisonous mold
or lie Ump and useless as an unconnected wdre

and one day I will take my teenaged plug
and connect it to the nearest socket

raping an 8 5 -year-old white woman
who is somebody's mother
and as I beat her senseless and set a torch to her bed

a greek chorus will be singing in 3/4 time

"Poor thing. She never hurt a soul. What beasts they are."

Audre Lorde's "Power" is poem of documentation, of po-

lice records, tapes, a jury verdict. It's also a poem about creative

and destructive rage. An artist lostj without imagery or magic in a
70 I
What Is Found There

desert of whiteness, of "an articulated power that is not on your
terms," is an artist driven against the wall. Lorde has said that she
heard of the acquittal of the pohceman while driving,

and I decided to pull over and just jot some things down in my
notebook to enable me to cross town without an accident because
I was so sick and so enraged. ... I was just writing, and that poem
came out without craft. ... I was thinking that the killer had been
a student at John Jay [College of Criminal Justice, where Lorde
was then teaching] and that I might have seen him in the hall, that

I might see him again. What was retribution? What could have
been done? There was one Black woman on the jury. It could
have been me. . . . Do I kill What is my effective role?
Would I kill her. . . . — the Black woman on the jury. What kind

of strength did she, would I, have at the point of deciding to take a

position. . . . There is the jury —white male power, white male
structures —how do you take a position against them? How do
you deal with things you believe, live them not as theory, not
even as emotion, but right on the line of action and effect and
change? All of those things were riding on that poem. But I had
no sense, no understanding at the time, of the connections, just
that I was that woman. And that to put myself on the line to do
what had to be done at any place and time was so difficult, and not
to do so was the most awful death. And putting yourself on the
line is like killing a piece of yourself, in the sense that you have to
kill, end, destroy something familiar and dependable, so that

something new can come in ourselves, in our world. And that

sense of writing at the edge, out of urgency, not because you
choose it but because you have to — that sense of survival — that's

what the poem is out of, as well as the pain of my spiritual son's

death over and over. Once you live any piece of your vision it

opens you to a constant onslaught. Of necessities, of horrors, but

The hermit's scream |

of wonders too, of possibilities . . . like meteor showers all the

time, bombardment, constant connections.

An event may ignite a poem (which may then be labeled a

"protest" poem) but not because the poet has "decided" to
address that event. What's clear from Lorde's memory of the first

draft of "Power" is that the event encapsulated great reaches of
her experience, open questions of her life. Hearing a news report
on the radio, she pulls over and reaches for her notebook as a

recourse from harming herself or others —and it is in Hfe-and-
death terms that the poem begins to speak. A so-called "poHti-
cal" poem comes — if it comes as poetry at all —from fearful and
raging, deep and tangled questions within: in Lorde's case How
do you deal with the things you believe? How do I put myself on the
line? How can I destroy what needs to die in me without destroying
others at random? I think again of Bishop's hermit's cry. Two
poems more different than "Chemin de Per" and "Power" are
hard to imagine. Until you start to Hsten back and forth between
A leak in histor y

I'm staying in a house in the Vermont countryside, shaded in
front by three big sugar maples. Behind it lies a grove of the same
trees, and on a hillside far away I can see another grove, glowing
green in rich late-afternoon light. In autumn the leaves turn
scarlet; in late winter thaw the pale aqueous sap starts rising and is

gathered and laboriously evaporated, in little steamy shacks and
cabins, down to its essence, a syrup fme as honey. The Abnaki
Indians knew this process before the Yankees came to clear scat-

tered pools of land for grazing, leaving old forest lands in be-
tween. Taught by the Abnaki, the first white men made maple
sugar inVermont in 1752.
Under snow, the sap shrinks back. In early thaw, farmers
A leak in history |

trudge and horse-sledge through the woods to drill little taps
into the rough-barked trunks. The sap used to be collected in
wooden firkins, then in tin pails hung over the taps; more re-

cently, where terrain and weather allow, plastic tubing is used. A
culture formed around this labor-intensive harvesting, first ritual

of the northern spring, the culture of the sugarhouse with its

ancient sprung castoff chairs, steaming evaporation trays, wet
snow and mud trodden inside on heavy boots, doughnuts and
coffee, pickles, frankfurters, and beer brought down by women
from farm kitchens, eaten and drunk by men lugging and pour-
ing sap and stoking the wood fires. Hard manual labor —about
forty gallons of sap being collected and boiled down to obtain

one gallon of syrup —and adept, sensitive calculation of the cy-
cles of thaw and freeze that make for the best sugaring-off; test-

ing for the moment when the thin, faintly sweet sap has reached
the density of amber syrup. The sour crispness of pickle on the
tongue amid all that sweaty sweetness. There is a summer culture
too, at church suppers and county fairs, where "sugar on snow"
still competes with cotton-candy machines and barbecue — pans
of last winter's snow from icehouse, cemetery vault, or freezer,

sticky arabesques of hot syrup poured on, served on paper plates

with the necessary pickle and doughnut on the side.

Maple trees reproduce with energy: under any big tree you
will find dozens of seedlings crowding each other; in spring the
seeds, or keys, blow far afield on little brown wings soon after

thenew leaves uncurl. The root system of a full-grown maple is
many times the circumference of the great crown. In their early-
summer-evening green, in the hectic flare of their October
changing, in the strong, stripped upreaching of their winter
bareness, they are presences of enormous vitality and generosity,
trees that yield much to the eye, to the tongue, to the modest
cash assets of farm families.
74 I
What Is Found There

It's said that acid rain and road salt are slowly dooming the
sugar maples. Studying and testing the rings of mature trees,
scientists have found that up until 1955 they show no evidence
of chemical stress; since 1955 acidity has been wearing into the
trees and will eventually destroy them. I look out at the grove on
the hill, the old trees just outside the window; all seems as it has
always been, without smirch or taint.

I remember other trees that stood in this landscape when I first

knew it: the wineglass elms. Every village common, every road-
side, had them. Ulmus americanus, outspreading limbs sweeping
up from a straight and slender trunk in the form of a true wine-
glass, green in summer, golden in autumn, architecturally ele-
gant in nakedness. An old pamphlet from the State Agricultural
Service, found in a drawer, implores cooperation in destroying
infested bark and wood and protecting still-healthy trees. But the
fungus- carrying elm bark beetle won out. Throughout New
England, elms fell barren in summer, sick to death, easily splin-
tered by winds. Soon a living elm in leaf was something rare and
precious. Now it's hard to remember where they stood.
The poorer we become, the less we remember what we had.
Whenever I walk into this house after an absence, I drink, slowly
and deliberately, a glass of pure cold water from the spring-fed
tap. I don't drink from most taps because I don't like their ill

flavor. And the taste of bottled water from the supermarket has
no savor; it reminds me of nothing. The spring water flowing
into this house does — in its transparency, its lucidity, its original

cold. Of course it tastes of this place, sharp with memories, but
also of water I drank as a child in the 1930s, from an iron pipe set
in the side of a ravine where I used to play. It seemed Hke the
saving, merciful drink of water in legends or poetry; through it I

sensuously understood the beautiful, lip-smacking words "to
quench a thirst." This was not in the country, but in a wooded
park in Baltimore. There was a stream there too, where we
A leak in history | 75

waded, and plunged our hands in to the wrists, and never got

Three thousand miles to the west, where I live now, on a

much-traveled hill road winding eastward from the coast, there
is a standing pipe called the Lombardi Spring. A few cars and
trucks are almost always parked on the shoulder, people lined up
with jugs and bottles, because that water is held to be particularly
delicious and good. And it is free.

Sensual vitaHty is essential to the struggle for life. It's as sim-
ple —and as threatened — as that. To have no love for the taste of
the water you drink is a loss of vitality. If your appetite is em-
balmed in prescriptives, you are weakened for the struggle.
Under the most crushing conditions of deprivation, people have
to fill their stomachs, eat earth, eat plain starch, force down
watery and rancid soup, drink urine for survival. Yet there's
another story. In the newsletter produced by inmates in a
women's facility, among columns on law, religion, politics, cur-
rent prison issues, there is the "Konvict Kitchen," with recipes
for special microwaved dishes to be created by combining items
from the prison store:

I can Mixin' Chicken
1 Shrimp Noodle Cup
Jalapeno Peppers (optional)
Onions (optional)
Bell Peppers (optional)

2 Packages Margarine

Crush noodles and put in large micro-wave bowl with enough
water to cover them. Let sit for three minutes. Take bell peppers,

onions, and hot peppers and saute in micro- wave for two min-
utes. Take mixture out, add noodles, stir thoroughly and cook in
micro-wave for approximately 20-25 minutes, until noodles are
76 I
What Is Found There

crisp. Stir every five minutes. Keep lid lightly on mixture but not
tightly closed. Serves 2.

—Gloria Bolden
Poetry being a major form of prison literature, it goes without
saying that there are poems in the newsletter. Like the recipe

above, they work within the prison context but refuse to be

This is prison not the Hilton

Heard we got it made in here?

This is livin' at its finest?

Country clubs with kegs of beer?
Say — listen up my fiiend
let me tell you what it's like

to be livin' in the sewer
flushed fiirther down the pipe . . .

This is prison not the Hilton

Election time is on its way
you'll hear it on the T.V.
we should suffer every day
days of torture

nights of terror

feel your heart's been torn in shreds?

Say you're showered with asbestos,
drinking nitrate in your bed? ...

This is prison not the Hilton

care to change your place for mine?

Think that 20 out of 60
isn't doing enough time?
Care to try this life of leisure?
A leak in history |

Care to leave your folks behind?
This is prison not the Hilton

and its hell here all the time.

—composed by Jacqueline Dixon-Bey and Mary Glover,
inside Florence Crane Women's Prison, Coldwater,
Michigan, Spring 1990; recipe and poem from INSIGHT:
Serving the Women of Florence Crane Women's Facility
2d quarter ed. (1990)

Sensual vitality is essential to the struggle for life. Many people
drink as if filling themselves with dirt or starch: the filling of an
emptiness. But what comes after is a greater emptiness. In the

reputations of poets like Hart Crane, Dylan Thomas, Kenneth
Rexroth, James Wright, Richard Hugo, Delmore Schwartz,
Robert Lowell, EHzabeth Bishop, John Berryman, Anne Sex-
ton, drinking has been romanticized as part of the "poetic fate,"

the "despondency and madness" of the poet — as if bricklayers,

surgeons, housewives, miners, generals, salesmen haven't also
poured down liquids to fire up or numb interior spaces of dread.
A politician's wife confesses to having drunk aftershave, nail-

poHsh remover, in desperate substitute for confiscated bottles.

Whether done with nail-polish remover or antique Hqueur of
pear, this is self-poisoning.

But there's a sensual vitality in drinking wine and "spirits" as

in drinking pure water. Both belong to ancient human rites and
memories. People have fermented the apple, the grape, the
palm, hops and barley, rice, berries, the potato, the dandeHon,
the plum. Along with the rising of the yeast in bread was the
fermentation of the grain, the fruit. Blessed be the Spirit of the
Universe, who created the fruit of the vine. For us to use it as we
78 I
What Is Found There

That so many of us use, or have used, the fruit of the vine in
an attempt to fill our terrifying voids may point to the failure of a
general communal vitality more than to some inherent poison-
ing in the fermentation process. I don't minimize the ultimate
transaction between the individual and the bottle. But the indi-

vidual's sense of emptiness reflects —and helps perpetuate —
public emptiness.
When a vast, stifling denial in the public realm is felt by every
individual yet there is no language, no depiction, of what is

being denied, it becomes for each his or her own anxious predic-
ament, a daily struggle to act "as if" everything were normal.
Alcohol, drugs offer a reprieve — not ceremony or celebration,
but a substitute for vital bonds of community and friendship, for
collective memory and responsibility. Where there is no public
face of interdependence, ofjustice and mercy, where there is no
social language for "picking up the pieces when we don't know
what/where they are," anomie and amnesia, alcohol and drug
abuse can work as social controls and, because they appear "nor-

mal," can be more effective — in a very large country —than ter-

rorization by a secret police.

The danger lies in forgetting what we had. The flow between
generations becomes a trickle, grandchildren tape-recording
grandparents' memories on special occasions perhaps —no casual

storytelling jogged by daily life, there being no shared daily Ufe
what with migrations, exiles, diasporas, rendings, the search for

work. Or there is a shared daily Hfe riddled with holes of silence.
In 1979 Helen Epstein published her book of interviews. Chil-

dren of the Holocaust. In 1985 Judy Kaplan and Linn Shapiro ed-

ited Red Diaper Babies: Children of the Left, a compilation of tran-
scripts of taped sessions at two conferences held in 1982 and 1983
A leak in history | 79

by children of leftist and Communist families, then in their thir-
ties and forties. There are haunting resonances between the two
groups of testimony: the children's experience of knowing that
there was something of major weight at the center of their par-
ents' lives, something secret, unspoken, unspeakable. (Epstein
refers to "that quiet, invisible community, that peer group with-
out a sign.") Both groups of children knowing about things that
could not be discussed on the playground or with "strangers,"
that were to a greater or lesser degree unmentionable even at

home. A tattoo on an aunt's wrist. A neighbor's withdrawal. A
mother's nightmares; a parent's terror when a child left the

house or came home late. A father in jail or underground. Close
friends who suddenly could not be mentioned. Certain newspa-
pers having to be hidden; jobs inexpUcably lost; children trained
that "the walls have ears"; a car parked across the street for

hours, one day every week, two men sitting inside. There can be
no question of equalizing the events that catalyzed these two
silences. Yet the passing on of living history is an essential ingre-
dient of individual and communal self-knowledge, and in both
cases that continuity was breached. Forty years is a wilderness of

The loss can be a leak in history or a shrinking in the vitality of
everyday life. Fewer and fewer people in this country entertain

each other with verbal games, recitations, charades, singing,
playing on instruments, doing anything as amateurs —people
who are good at something because they enjoy it. To be good at

talk, not pompously eloquent or didactic, but having a vivid
tongue, savoring turns of phrase — to sing on key and know
many —
songs by heart to play fiddle, banjo, mandolin, flute,

accordion, harmonica— to write long letters — to draw pictures
or whittle wood with some amount of skill — to do moderately
and pleasingly well, in short, a variety of things without solemn
investment or disenabling awe — these were common talents till
8o I
What Is Found There

recently, crossing class and racial lines. People used their human
equipment —memory, image making, narrative, voice, hand,

eye — unself-consciously, to engage with other people, and not
as specialists or "artistes." My father and his mother both loved
to recite poetry learned long ago in school. He had Poe's "The
Raven" and "Annabel Lee" from memory, and he had won a

school medal for his recitation of a long narrative poem called

"Lasca," which began:

I want free life and I want fresh air,

And I sigh for the canter after the cattle,

The crack of whips like shots in a battle.

The green below, and the blue above.

And dash, and danger, and life, and love
And Lasca.

And my grandmother still remembered a poem she'd learned in
Vicksburg, Mississippi —-Jewish girl sent to a convent school

where there were no secular schools. In her seventies she could

recite, black eyes glowing, "Asleep at the Switch":

It was down in the Lehigh Valley,
At the bottom of the bottomless ditch,

I lived alone in a cabin.

And attended the railway switch.

The reciters of these two poems could not have been in per-
son more unlike the "speaker" of each poem, and that was part
of the excitement: to see a known person become someone new
and different, change his or her identity but within a framework
that allowed each to change back at the end —from Texan des-
perado to my sedentary, scholarly father; from negligent, solitary
A leak in history |

switchman to my sheltered, precise grandmother. And such reci-
tations let a child feel that poetry (verse, really, with its struc-

tured rhymes, meters, and ringingly fulfilled aural expectations)
was not just words on the page, but could live in people's minds
for decades, to be summoned up with relish and verve, and that

poetry was not just literature, but embodied in voices.
For ordinary people to sing or whistle used to be as common
as breathing. I remember men whistling, briskly or hauntingly,

women humming with deep-enclosed chest tones. Where did it

go? A technology of "canned" music available through car ra-
dios, portable "boom boxes," and cassette players, programmed
music piped into the workplace, has left people born in the 1950s
and later largely alien to the experience of hearing or joining in
casual music making. Knowing how to pitch your voice isn't the
privilege of the conservatory; people used to learn it from hear-
ing others casually, unself-consciously sing, as they learned lan-
guage, accent, inflection in speech. Now singing belongs to pro-
fessionals, is preserved in churches; rap, a spontaneous and
sophisticated expression of Black street youth at first, quickly
became a commodity on videotape, adapted as a new style for

television commercials. (Yet rap goes on around the world,
picking up on local griefs, local insurgencies.)

Part of the experience of casual singing was the undeliberate
soaking up of many songs, many verses. Ballads, hymns, work
songs, opera arias, folk songs, popular songs, labor songs, school-
children's playground songs. And, of course, with the older
songs words changed over time, new generations of singers mis-
remembering or modifying. Tunes changed, too, as songs trav-

eled: from England or Wales to Appalachia, from Africa to the

Sea Islands, France to Quebec, and across the continent.
To ears accustomed to high-technology amplification and re-
cording processes, the unampHfied human voice, the voice not
82 I
What Is Found There

professionally trained, may sound acoustically lacking, even per-
haps embarrassing. And so we're severed from a physical release
and pleasure, whether in solitude or community — the use of

breath to produce song. But breath is also Ruach, spirit, the

human connection to the universe.

Someone is
writing a poem

The society whose modernization has reached the stage of integrated
spectacle is characterized by the combined effect of five principal factors:

incessant technological renewal, integration of state and economy,
generahzed secrecy, unanswerable lies, and eternal present.
The spectator is simply supposed to know nothing and deserves
nothing. Those who are watching to see what happens next will never act

and such must be the spectator's condition.

—Guy Debord

In a political culture of managed spectacles and passive specta-
tors, poetry appears as a rift, a peculiar lapse, in the prevailing
mode. The reading of a poem, a poetry reading, is not a spec-
tacle, nor can it be passively received. It's an exchange of electri-
cal currents through language — that daily, mundane, abused,
and ill-prized medium, that instrument of deception and revela-
tion, that material thing, that knife, rag, boat, spoon/ reed
become become drum/mud become clay flute/
pipe/tree trunk

conch shell become summons to freedom/old trousers and pet-
ticoats become iconography in appHque/rubber bands stretched
84 I
What Is Found There

around a box become lyre. Diane Glancy: Poetry uses the hub of a

torque converterfor a jello mold. I once saw, in a Chautauqua vaude-
ville, a man who made recognizably tonal music by manipulat-
ing a variety of sizes of wooden spoons with his astonishing

fmgers. Take that old, material utensil, language, found all about
you, blank with familiarity, smeared with daily use, and make it

into something that means more than it says. What poetry is

made of is so old, so familiar, that it's easy to forget that it's not
just the words, but polyrhythmic sounds, speech in its first en-
deavors (every poem breaks a silence that had to be overcome),
prismatic meanings Ht by each others' light, stained by each oth-
ers' shadows. In the wash of poetry the old, beaten, worn stones
of language take on colors that disappear when you sieve them
up out of the streambed and try to sort them out.

And all this has to travel from the nervous system of the poet,
preverbal, to the nervous system of the one who Hstens, who
reads, the active participant without whom the poem is never

I can't write a poem to manipulate you; it will not succeed.

Perhaps you have read such poems and decided you don't care
for poetry; something turned you away. I can't write a poem
from dishonest motives; it will betray its shoddy provenance,
like an ill-made tool, a scissors, a drill, it will not serve its pur-
pose, it will come apart in your hands at the point of stress. I
can't write a poem simply from good intentions, wanting to set
things right, make it all better; the energy will leak out of it, it
will end by meaning less than it says.
Someone is writing a poem | 85

I can't write a poem that transcends my own limits, though
poetry has often pushed me beyond old horizons, and writing a
poem has shown me how far out a part of me was walking
beyond the rest. I can expect a reader to feel my limits as I

cannot, in terms of her or his own landscape, to ask: But what has
this to do with me? Do poem? And this is not a simple
I exist in this

or naive question. We go to poetry because we beUeve it has
something to do with us. We also go to poetry to receive the

experience of the not me, enter a field of vision we could not
otherwise apprehend.
Someone poem believes in a reader, in
writing a readers, of
that poem. The "who" of that reader quivers like a jellyfish.

Self-reference is always possible: that my "I" is a universal "we,"
that the reader is my clone. That sending letters to myself is

enough for attention to be paid. That my chip of mirror contains
the world.
But most often someone writing a poem believes in, depends
on, a deUcate, vibrating range of difference, that an "I" can
become a "we" without extinguishing others, that a partly com-
mon language exists to which strangers can bring their own
heartbeat, memories, images. A language that itself has learned
from the heartbeat, memories, images of strangers.

Spectacles controlled and designed to manipulate mass opin-
ion, mass emotions depend increasingly on the ownership of vast
and expensive technologies and on the physical distance of the
spectators from the spectacle. (The bombing of Baghdad, the
studios where competing camera shots were selected and edited
and juxtaposed to project via satellite dazzling images of a clean,
nonbloody war.) I'm not claiming any kind of purity for poetry,

only its own particular way of being. But it's notable that the
86 I
What Is Found There

making of and participation in poetry is so independent of high

technology. A good sound system at a reading is of course a great

advantage. Poetry readings can now be heard on tape, radio,
recorded on video. But poetry would get lost in an immense
technological performance scene. What poetry can give has to
be given through language and voice, not through massive ef-

fects of lighting, sound, superimposed film images, nor as a mere
adjunct to spectacle.
I need to make a crucial distinction here. The means of high
technology are, as the poet Luis J. Rodriguez has said of the
microchip, "surrounded by social relations and power mech-
anisms which arose out of another time, another period; . . .

[they are] imprisoned by capitalism." The spectacles produced
by these means carry the messages of those social relations and
power mechanisms: that our conditions are inevitable, that ran-
domness prevails, that the only possible response is passive ab-

sorption and identification.
But there is a different kind of performance at the heart of the
renascence of poetry as an oral art— the art of the griot, per-

formed in alliance with music and dance, to evoke and catalyze a

community or communities against passivity and victimization,
to recall people to their spiritual and historic sources. Such art,

here and now, does not and cannot depend on huge economic
and technical resources, though in a different system of social
relations it might well draw upon highly sophisticated technolo-
gies for its own ends without becoming dominated by them.

Someone is writing a poem. Words are being set down in a

force field. It's as if the words themselves have magnetic charges;
they veer together or in polarity, they swerve against each other.
Part of the force field, the charge, is the working history of the
Someone is writing a poem | 87

words themselves, how someone has known them, used them,
doubted and rehed on them in a life. Part of the movement
among the words belongs to sound — the guttural, the liquid, the
choppy, the drawn-out, the breathy, the visceral, the down-
hght. The theater of any poem is a collection of decisions about
space and time —how are these words to lie on the page, with
what pauses, what headlong motion, what phrasing, how can
they meet the breath of the someone who comes along to read
them? And in part the field is charged by the way images swim
into the brain through written language: swan, kettle, icicle,

ashes, scab, tamarack, tractor, veil, slime, teeth, freckle.

Lynn Emanuel writes of a nuclear-bomb test watched on tele-
Nevada desert by a single mother and daughter
vision in the
living on the edge in a motel:


Outside the window the McGill smelter

sent a red dust down on the smoking yards of copper,

on the railroad tracks' frayed ends disappeared

into the congestion of the afternoon. Ely lay dull

and scuffed: a miner's boot toe worn away and dim,
while my mother knelt before the Philco to coax
the detonation from the static. From the Las Vegas

Tonapah Artillery and Gunnery Range the sound

of the atom bomb came biting like a swarm
of bees. We sat in the hot Nevada dark, delighted,
when the switch was tripped and the bomb hoisted
up its silky, hooded, glittering, uncoiling length;

it hissed and spit, it sizzled like a poker in a toddy.
The bomb was no mind and all body; it sent a fire
88 I
What Is Found There

of static down the spine. In the dark it glowed like the coils

of an electric stove. It stripped every leaf from every

branch until a willow by a creek was a bouquet
of switches resinous, naked, flexible, and fine.

Bathed in the light of KDWN, Las Vegas,
my crouched mother looked radioactive, swampy,

glaucous, like something from the Planet Krypton.

In the suave, brilliant wattage of the bomb, we were
not poor. In the atom's fizz and pop we heard possibility
uncorked. Taffeta wraps whispered on davenports.

A new planet bloomed above us; in its Hght
the stumps of cut pine gleamed like dinner plates.

The world was beginning all over again, fresh and hot;
we could have anything we wanted.

In the suave, brilliant wattage of the bomb, we were/not poor. This,
you could say, is the political core of the poem, the "meaning"
without which it could not exist. All that the bomb was meant to
mean, as spectacle of power promising limitless possibilities to

the powerless, all the falseness of its promise, the original devas-
tation of two cities, the ongoing fallout into local communities,
reservations — -all the way to the Pacific Islands — this is the driv-

ing impulse of the poem, the energy it rides. Yet all this would
be mere "message" and forgettable without the poem's visual
fury, its extraordinary leaps of sound and image: Ely lay dull/and

scuffed: a miner's boot toe worn away and dim. . . . Taffeta wraps

whispered on davenports. The Planet Krypton is Superman's
planet, falling apart, the bits of rubble it flings to earth dangerous
to the hero; Earth has become its own Planet Krypton —auto-
Someone is writing a poem | 89

At a certain point, a woman, writing this poem, has had to

reckon the power of poetry as distinct from the power of the
nuclear bomb, of the radioactive lesions of her planet, the power
of poverty to reduce people to spectators of distantly conjured
events. She can't remain a spectator, hypnotized by the gor-
geousness of a destructive force launched far beyond her control.

She can feel the old primary appetites for destruction and cre-
ation within her; she chooses for creation and for language. But
to do this she has to see clearly — and to make visible —how
destructive power once seemed to serve her needs, how the
bomb's silky, hooded, glittering, uncoiling length might enthrall a

mother and daughter as they watched, two marginal women,
clinging to the edges of a speck in the desert. Her handling of
that need, that destructiveness, in language, is how she takes on
her true power.


The two best-known poets of the nineteenth-century United
States were a strange uncoupled couple, moving together in a

dialectic that the twentieth century has only begun to decipher.
Walt Whitman (1819-1892) and Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
were both "beginners" in the sense of Whitman's poem:

How they are provided for upon the earth (appearing at intervals)
How dear and dreadful they are to the earth.
How they inure to themselves as much as to any—what a paradox
appears their age.

How people respond to them, yet know them not,
How there is something relentless in their fate, all times.
How all times mischoose the objects of their adulation and reward.
Beginners | 91

And how the same inexorable price must still be paid for the same
great purchase.

Whitman's "beginners" aren't starters-out on a path others
have traveled. They are openers of new paths, those who take

the first steps, who therefore can seem strange and "dreadful" to

their place and time ("dear" can mean "beloved" but also

"costly," a sense echoed in the fmal line above). To "inure"
means to "accustom yourself to something difficult and painful."
Whitman also uses "inure" in the sense of "inhere" or "be-
long," as in:

All this is thenceforth to be thought or done by you whoever you are,

or by anyone,

These inure, have inured, shall inure, to the identities from which
they sprang, or shall spring.

These "beginners" cost difficulty and pain to themselves as

weU as to others, in whom they arouse strong feeUngs yet by
whom —
unknown their age feels paradoxical be-
they remain
cause of their presence in it. The appearance of the beginner is a
necessary, even a "relentless," event in human history, yet these

persons appear as misfits, are not what "the times" adulate and
reward. Both the person and the times pay a price for this, yet
the beginner is "provided for" — part of the longer scheme of

Whitman and Dickinson shared this problematic status as

white poets in a century of slavery, wars against the Indians,
westward expansion, the Civil War, and the creation of the
United States as an imperial power. In terms of their social ori-
gins and their places in the social order, the two shared little

beyond white skin. The woman —daughter of a lawyer, legisla-

tor, and treasurer of Amherst College, raised in a home with
92 I
What Is Found There

Puritan roots and Irish servants, briefly attending a female semi-
nary, dropping out to keep house for an ill mother, rarely leaving
the village of her birth or even her father's house —might seem
the very type and product of the mid-nineteenth-century's dia-
gram for patriarchally protected middle-class femininity, married

or not. The man —son of a Puritan farmer-carpenter and a
Dutch- Welsh mother, educated in the Brooklyn pubHc schools,
turned traveling journalist, journeyman printer, war correspon-
dent and field nurse, rambler from Niagara to New Orleans
might seem one paradigm of "New World" mascuHnity, the
stock of explorers, pioneers, frontiersmen, allowed, as a male of
northern European/ Anglo origins, the free expression of his per-
sonality in an expansive era.

And so they have come down to us, as reclusive, compressed
Emily and all-hailing, instinctual Walt, white dress and neck-
ribbon, shaggy beard and wide-brimmed hat. For Dickinson,
the private life, intense, domestic, microcosmic; for Whitman,
the "kosmos," the "democratic vistas" of the urban panorama,
the open road, the middle range of the Nineteenth century in the New
World; a strange, unloosened, wondrous time. For Dickinson, a fa-
ther's library, letters as Hnk to the world, poem itself as "letter,"

books as metaphors for and lines into experience, life itself as

"Primer" to the "Book" of eternity:

He ate and drank the precious Words
His Spirit grew robust . . .

And this Bequest of Wings
Was but a book What — Liberty

A loosened Spirit brings

For Whitman, a world of newspapers and printshops, city wan-
derings, casual sexual encounters. Civil War hospitals, and al-
— ——
Beginners |

ways his suspicion of printed texts, of the failures of the dictio-
nary, the pubhshed history or biography. / cannot divest my appe-
tite of literature, yet I find myself trying it all by Nature; The real war
will never get in the books; What is it that you express in your eyes? It

seems to me more than all the print I have read in my life. The poem as
national product, engendering the heroic identities of a democ-
racy: Without yielding an inch the working-man and working-woman
were to be in my pages from first to last. For Dickinson, several
anonymously anthologized poems, the rest enclosed in letters,

stitched into sequences stored in a bedroom chest. For Whit-
man, the 1855 edition oi Leaves of Grass, no name on the title

page, the poet's open-shirted likeness as frontispiece, his author-
ship revealed in the text of the poems. Dickinson: Renunciation is

a piercing virtue; No is the wildest word we consign to language. Whit-
man: / celebrate myself . . . one of the roughs, a kosmos/Disorderly

fleshly and sensual, eating drinking and breeding.

For Dickinson:

On my volcano grows the Grass
A meditative spot
An acre for a Bird to choose
Would be the General thought

How red the Fire rocks below
How insecure the sod
Did I disclose

Would populate with awe my solitude.

For Whitman:

Through me forbidden voices,

Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil'd, and I

remove the veil.

Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur'd.
94 I
What Is Found There

Didn't they seem to fit their age, though, these "beginners"?

Didn't they seem to act out precisely the chartered roles, the

constructions of white, middle-class masculinity and femininity
that suited the times? Were they really "beginners," then, or just
polar incarnations of a nineteenth-century sexual dualism?
Both took on North America as extremists. She from her
vantage point: female. New England, eccentric within her
world, not the spinster servicing the community, but a violently

ambitious spirit married to the privacy of her art. He from his

vantage point: male within a spectrum that required some males
to be, like Dickinson's father, stiff-collared wardens of society,
while allowing others to hanker, ramble on open roads. Both
showed masks to the world: behind her acceptable persona of
gingerbread-baking self-effacement, a woman artist remaking
poetic language; the metaphysical and sensual adventures of her
poems; and what Muriel Rukeyser called "her unappeasable

thirst for fame."

I tie my Hat — I crease my Shawl
Life's little duties do — precisely

As the very least

Were infinite — to me — , . .

To simulate — is stinging work
To cover what we are

From Science —and from Surgery
Too Telescopic Eyes

To bear on us unshaded

For their —sake—not for Ours
'Twould start them
We—could tremble
But since we got a Bomb—

Beginners |

And held it in our Bosom
— —
Nay Hold it it is calm

He, behind the persona of shape-changing omnipresence and
"personal force," socially vulnerable as a poet breaking with
Puritanism in a mercantile, materiaUstic nation less than a cen-
tury old, sexually vulnerable as a frankly desirous man attracted

to men.
At the end of the twentieth century these two poets are still

hardly known beyond the masks they created for themselves and
those clapped on them by the times and customs. Our categories
have compressed the poetic energies of the white nineteenth-
century United States into a gendered opposition: a sensual,
free-ranging, boastful father and a reluctant, elusive, emotionally
closeted mother —poetic progenitors neither of whom had chil-

dren of the flesh. (Whitman boasted of his but clearly never
knew who or if they were; Dickinson remains an ostensible
daughter to the end.)
Yet thatwoman and that man were beginners (we know them
not): the woman choosing her inner life and language over in-
convenient domestic, social, and literary claims; the man over-
riding Puritan strictures against desire and insisting that democ-
racy is of the body, by the body, and for the body, that the body
is multiple, diverse, untypic.
They were a wild woman and a wild man, writing their wild
carnal and ecstatic thoughts, self-censoring and censored, as the
empire of the United States pushed into the Far West, Mexico,
the Caribbean. He cannot possibly have heard of her unless he
chanced to meet one of her rare sponsors (like the novelist Helen
Hunt Jackson, hater of the Empire, who wrote A Century of
Dishonor about the white destruction of Indian cultures and, in a
letter, told Dickinson: "You are a great poet"). She allowed only
96 I
What Is Found There

that she'd heard his poems were "immoral." In the United
States, on this enormous continent, poetry has been a strange
crossroads, where poets often pass each other by dawn or twi-
hght and do not know who they are passing.
But the wild woman and the wild man are Americana now:
folded into textbooks, glossed in exhaustive scholarly editions.
And the protagonist of Maxine Hong Kingston's extraordinary
novel Tripmaster Monkey is a young Chinese-American poet
named Wittman Ah Sing, who reads poetry aloud to the passen-

gers in the buses of San Francisco.

Twenty-one years after the death of Whitman, twenty-seven

years after the death of Dickinson, another poet is bom. Her
name is Muriel Rukeyser.

What happens when, the year before the outbreak of World
War I, a girl is born into an urban, tempestuous, upwardly mo-
bile, contradiction-ridden, Jewish family? What happens when,
at twenty-one, her first book of poems is published, the year is

1934 around the world, and the title of the book (derived from a

piloting manual) is Theory of Flight'^ When the first poem of that
book is already big, assured, panoramic, accomplished, drawing
on techniques of film, yet unflinchingly personal? What happens
when that young woman pushes off^ the class ambitions she was
raised in (I was expected to grow up and become a golfer), breaks with
her family, to move deeper into her country, her world, her
century? When, neither asexual nor self-diminutizing, she af-
firms herself as large in body and desire, ambitious, innovative;

travels to crucial poHtical scenes, in Spain and the United States,
as working journahst and poet; learns to pilot a plane; works in

film; feels in her imagination the excitement of the lost connec-

Beginners |

tions between science and poetry? When her work as a poet
continuously addresses the largest questions of her time — ques-
tions of power, technology, gender — in many forms: elegies,
odes, lyrics, documentary poems, epigrams, ballads, dramatic
monologues, biographical narratives? What happens when a

woman, drawing on every political and social breakthrough
gained by women since Dickinson's death in 1886, assumes the

scope of her own living to be at least as large as Whitman's?
Add to this that she writes three major biographies — a Hfe of
the "father of American physics," Willard Gibbs; another of the
EngHsh Renaissance naturaHst, mathematician, navigator, as-

tronomer Thomas Hariot; a book about the 1940 U.S. presiden-

tial candidate and compromised visionary Wendell Willkie
screenplays, essays, translations of poetry; a haunting
documentary novel about sexuality and ritual. The Orgy; and a

study of our national imagination. The Life of Poetry.
She is our twentieth-century Coleridge, our Neruda, and
What happens? She falls between the cracks. Her books do
not have to be burnt.
In The Traces of Thomas Hariot she wrote of her subject as a lost

man who was great. And if he is great, what is his greatness? If he is

great, why is he lost? She describes Hariot as caught . . . in all the

heresies of his time, scientific, political, philosophical, sexual . . . a rebel

who appears to fail at every climax of his life. He can he seen to go deeper

at these times. She was also touching a fmger to the pulse of her
own reputation, her own development.
In an interview late in her life, Rukeyser said:

One of the attacks on me for writing that Hariot book spoke of
me as a she-poet — that I had no business to be doing this, and I

was broken for a while and looked out the window for awhile.
98 I
What Is Found There

And then I I am a she-poet. Anything I bring to this
thought, yes,

is because I am a woman. And this is the thing that was left out of
the Elizabethan worid, the element that did not exist. Maybe,
maybe, maybe that is what one can bring to life.

It is by a long road of presumption that I come to Willard Gibbs.

When one is a woman, when one is writing poems, when one is

drawn through a passion to know people today and the web in

which they, suffering, find themselves, to learn the people, to

dissect the web, one deals with the processes themselves. To
know the processes and the machines of process: plane and dy-

namo, gun and dam. To see and declare the full disaster that the

people have brought on themselves by letting these processes sUp
out of the control of the people. To look for the sources of en-
ergy, sources that will enable us to find the strength for the leaps

that must be made. To find sources, in our own people, in the

living people. And to be able to trace the gifts made to us to two
roots: the infinite anonymous bodies of the dead, and the unique

few who, out of great wealth of spirit, were able to make their

own gifts. Of these few, some have been lost through waste and

its carelessness. This carelessness is complicated and specialized.
It is a main symptom of the disease of our schools, which let the

kinds of knowledge fall away fi-om each other, and waste knowl-
edge, and time, and people. All our training plays into this; our
arts do; and our government. It is a disease of organization, it

makes more waste and war.
Presumption it is to call it a disease, to say that it is one of the
reasons Gibbs was lost, and the main reason he has not been

Lost, I say, and found; but he was never lost. It was that he has
Beginners |

not reached far enough, and that we have not reached far enough
to meet him.

Rukeyser herself was never Uterally lost. In her hfetime, she

was sometimes the target of extraordinary hostiHty and ridicule,

based on a critic's failure to read her well or even try to under-

stand her methods: often, during the 1940s and 1950s especially,
because she was too complicated and independent to follow any
pohtical "line" or because she would not trim her sails to a

vogue of poetic irony and wit, an aesthetics of the private mid-
dle-class life, an idea of what a woman's poetry should look like.

Rukeyser lived and worked through a period of general polit-
ical discontent in the 1940s and 1950s — disillusionment with

StaUnism leading tobUnd hatred of Marxism for some ex-

Communists, compounded by FBI and McCarthy Committee
persecution of suspected Communists and "fellow travelers." At
the same time, white and male middle-class poets, especially in
the northeastern United States, were being hired into the uni-
versities as writing teachers, while university- trained scholar-
critics were replacing poets as the interpreters of poetry. Rukey-
ser's books were praised by a range of her peers. Through her
mature Hfe she was recognized with those grants and honors that
she called "the toys of fame." But in the history of poetry and
ideas in the United States —always difficult to grasp because of
narrow definitions, cultural ghettos, the politics of canon mak-
ers — she has not been seriously considered in the way that, say,

the group of politically conservative white southern poets
known as the Fugitives or the generation of men thought to
have shaped "modern poetry" —Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Wil-
Ham Carlos Williams, Wallace Stevens— have been considered.
Her thought remains unintegrated into our understanding of the

poetic currents, the architectonic shifts of the twentieth century.
Her poetry not only didn't fit the critical labels, she actually
100 I
What Is Found There

defied the going classifications, declaring them part of the "dis-
ease of our schools."

She was a woman who wrote — as a sexual woman and as a

Jew — unapologetically. The chartings of modern poetry were
the work not just of men, but of Anglo-Saxons and Christians.

She never thought of herself as making an academic career, with
its fragmentation into periods or "fields" of all she sought to
connect. So those who think in such patterns may have had
difficulty reading her.

She was never literally lost, but we have still to reach her.

How do we reach her? Most of her work is out of print. Poets
speak of her, but she is otherwise barely known — least of all for
her biographies, which in their visionary scholarship put to
shame the genre as it's generally practiced today. Included in a
major current college anthology, her poems are preceded by
patronizing and ignorant commentary: "To be absolutely con-
temporaneous was the aim of Muriel Rukeyser. . . . Her first

volume. Theory of Flight (1935), displayed her knowledge of avi-
ation. . . . Her poems seem to arise from her like natural

growths." Well, Whitman and Dickinson have suffered Hke silli-

ness and cluelessness in popular anthologies, both in terms of
commentary and of selection.
Rukeyser was immersed in history, science, art, and the West-
ern poetic tradition. She revised her poems furiously, was a

memorable teacher of poets. How should it be necessary to say
this here? Had a man of her class and background put forth this

kind of Hfework in scholarship and theory along with poetry,
would it be so difficult to embrace his achievement, to reach
We reach her, of course, as we reach all poetic resources
Beginners |

blocked from us by mindless packaging and spiritless scholarship.

We reach her by recognizing our need for her, by going to
libraries and taking out volume after volume, by going, finally,

to the crossroads —of poetry, politics, science, sexuality —and
meeting her there, where she waits, reaching toward us.
The real,
not the calendar,
twenty-first century

August iggi .The commander in chief for the Persian Gulf War
resigns his command. His memoirs have been purchased for over
$5 miUion. Already a paperback, Norman Schwarzkopf in His Own
Words appears on the bookrack of my local market.
The leading best-seller in "self-help" nonfiction this month,
according to the New York Times, is a book on suicide for people

with terminal illness. In the bookshop where I buy the papers,

there's a notice on the counter: "WE HAVE THIS ON
I think of Toni Morrison's Sula, of Shadrack, the traumatized
veteran of World War I, returning to the poor Black community
from which he came:
The real twenty- first century |

Shadrack began a struggle ... to order and focus experience. It

had to do with making a place for fear as a way of controlling it.

He knew the smell of death and was terrified of it, for he could
not anticipate it. It was not death or dying that frightened him, but
the unexpectedness of both. In sorting it all out, he hit on the
notion that if one day a year were devoted to it, everybody could
get it out of the way and the rest of the year would be safe and
free. In this manner he instituted National Suicide Day.
On the third day of the new year, he walked through the Bot-
tom down Carpenter's Road with a cowbell and a hangman's
rope calling the people together. Telling them that this was their

only chance to kill themselves or each other.

At the end of the novel, Shadrack, "still energetically mad," is

still alive.

But any of us would want to know how to do it. Not just
those with terminal illness, dreading the power of the doctors to
keep them technically alive, captive, staked like Gulliver to a
bed, with wires and tubing. Any of us would want, taken by the
enemy, to have the vial of strychnine to crush under the tongue.
And who do we mean by the enemy?

After the sex manuals, the relationship manuals, the success
manuals — the suicide manuals?
A society in depression with a fascination for violence wants

to know how to do it.
04 What Is Found There

At the end of the year 1989, in the tumult and shift of peoples
pressing into the streets, across borders, tearing down boundaries
and symbols of the State, arguments went back and forth in the
United States press as to whether 1990 or 1991 would actually be
the first year of the new decade, whether 2000 or 2001 would be
the first year of the new century. As if numerical precision could
lend reassurance and order to that anarchy of the unexpected,
could save us from the mistake of untimely emotions, premature
celebrations, or from arriving late and unready at the new era.

Against that breaking up of Cold War frontiers and fixities, I

saw a ghost: a woman with white hair and a hooked nose, the
extraordinary profile of her youth, once framed in gleaming
black, now turned full-face and fleshy. She lived through 19 14,
191 7, Stalinist terror, the siege of Leningrad, her son's imprison-
ment, killing and deportation of friends, censorship, banning,
exile, provisional rehabilitation, the Cold War; dying of a heart
attack at sixty-seven. She appeared to me half-translucent, super-
imposed on a black-and-white image of a cart of logs being
trundled by an anonymous old woman through snowy streets,

speaking from the poem she was writing to the end of her life,

her "Poem without a Hero":

And ever-present in the freezing, prewar,

Lecherous, terrible, stifling air

Lurked an incomprehensible rumble . . .

But then it was barely audible.
It scarcely reached the ear

And it sank into the snowdrifts by the Neva.

Just as in the mirror of a horrific night

A man is possessed and does not want
To recognize himself.
— —
The real twenty- first century |

Along the legendary embankment
The real —not the calendar
Twentieth Century draws near.
—Anna Akhmatova,
looking back to 19 14

But the Western dream of quantification expresses itself in

anxiety about time as if manageable through numerals. Numer-
als set in months whose names are rife with mythic associations,
intimations of weather and seasonal cycles, which are embedded
in other numerals signifying years
— "calendar" years, "school"
years, "fiscal" years, ritual years, decades, and centuries — the
grid on which we try to order individual and collective time.
Time is the school in which we learn, wrote Delmore Schwartz, that

time is the fire in which we burn. A new engagement calendar can
set off feelings of anxiety, anticipation, melancholy, absurdity

that those neat headings and parallel squares can possibly repre-
sent the currents of life in which the unforeseeable has so much
power. Like Shadrack, we want to fend off that power with
calendar time.
But underlying the names and numerals — 15 Elul 5740, Feb-
ruary 19, 1942 — are the phases of the moon and tides, the
planet's tilting in its orbit, and the phases of our incommensura-
ble inner life, for which we have no conscious dating and some-
times no conscious memory. Yet the anniversary of a death, a

rape, a fire, a miscarriage, a betrayal, a deep humiliation, a muti-
lation can year after year extrude its spHnters, almost to the day,

into the scar tissue of the well-annealed self, determined to oblit-
erate, to go on without looking back. Sometimes we can bring
the thing forward, recognize why a certain time of year, even a
certain Ught or smell, carries such disturbance or blankness in a
life apparently ongoing. We can come to respect the recurrence.
io6 I
What Is Found There

meet it halfway, not as interruption, but as the kind of repetition
by which (Time is the school) we learn.

And, surely, we can assume that episodes of collective, civil

loss, shame, betrayal dwell in the national psyche unacknowl-
edged, embedded Hke shrapnel, leaving a deep, recurrent ache in

the body politic? Not only the trauma's victims are held in thrall
by the trauma.
When Maya Lin's black granite wall, the Vietnam War me-
morial, was unveiled during the third year of Reagan's "feel-
good" presidency, it aroused bitter hostility, was assailed as "sub-
versive," "perverse," "degrading." Some critics found its very
blackness in a city of white monuments, its lack of a graphic
chauvinism, especially offensive. Yet the Wall became a magnet
for citizens of every generation, class, race, and relationship to
the war —perhaps because it is the only great public monument
that allows the anesthetized holes in the heart to fill with a truly

national grief Somewhat later, the AIDS quilt began to draw
thousands of citizens to gaze upon the evidence, to mourn a

different kind of collective loss. Two concrete and spiritual state-
ments: one, permanently set in the midst of official Washington,
has become the repository of thousands of offerings and personal
messages; the other, stitched together in communities across the
country, from fragile materials, still having to be stitched as

names still must be added, constantly in travel. Both countering
the silences of pubHc and private life; both perhaps more power-
ful than we yet know — as a communal art can be powerful — in

changing our conception of ourselves as a people. Neither has
been co-optable for commercial ends.
Is it in 1992 that the real, not the calendar, twenty-first cen-

tury will begin?

''A clearing in
the imagination

Misprision. I first learned that word in a Shakespeare sonnet I

memorized in school. An Elizabethan word, rarely used today. It

means "mistakenness," "to have taken something wrong"
"misapprehension" or "misperception" we might say today. So

thy great gift, upon misprision growing/Comes home again, on better

judgment making. Misprision comes to me as I listen to early news-
casts of the old-Hne "coup" against reforms in the Soviet Union.
Misprision of power; misprision of meanings, effects of this

event; misprision of history. The experts, as in the telecasts of the
Gulf War, thrashing in the narrow tunnels of their expertise.

Misprision of power, misconduct or neglect of duty by a public
official. To have taken something wrongly, to have mis-taken,
to have ill used what was taken, what ought not to have been
io8 I
What Is Found There

taken, to misrepresent, misapply, divert to other means what
ought to have its own rhythm and purpose. Misprise: to value
To value wrongly — the worst misconduct by a public official
since upon it all the others grow like molds.
In the same week as the attempted Soviet coup, the president
of the United States, signing a bill for the relief of poverty but
declining to approve funding to implement the measure, says, in
this way, he demonstrates his sympathy for the poor.

In this time, a critic of poetry writes: The question for an Ameri-
can poet, living in relative personal and national peace and plenty, is how
to find the imaginative interest in life without invoking a false theatrical-

ity, how to be modest without being dull, how to be moving without
being maudlin.

For an ever-growing spectrum of our people, the word "rela-
tive" in this sentence must be heavily underscored. Images of
sub-Saharan famine, of fleeing Kurds massed on mud slopes, of
disappearances and torture in Chile, Argentina, El Salvador,
Serbo-Croatia may lead some of us to count ourselves fortunate
and leave it at that, or — perhaps — to begin asking. On whose
suffering does our relative peace and plenty depend?
"To fmd the imaginative interest in Ufe" suggests a vigorous,
gray-headed, comfortably retired middle-class citizen consider-
ing the choice of a hobby or volunteer work: hardly the work of
the poet. For most people, let alone most poets, the problem is

not "finding an imaginative interest in life," but sustaining the
blows of the material and imaginative challenges of our time. A
growing, perhaps predominant, number of poets write —when
and as they are able to —out of fields of stress that cannot be
evaded, public crises of neglect and violence.

"A clearing in the imagination" | 109

The freeway is crisscrossed by overpasses, narrow pavements
stretching next to concrete bulwarks or chain link fences. Along
the pavements, from my car, I see more and more walkers. They
push laundry carts hung with plastic bags stuffed with sleeping
bags, clothing, newspapers, and strung around with smaller bags.

They wear heavy clothes in the bright midwinter California sun.
They are slung with knapsacks, they carry shopping bags. They
are noticeable here where few other pedestrians are seen; else-

where they mingle with the foot traffic on frontage roads and
main avenues. They are men and women of all ages, shades of
color, some with children, some with dogs. They, who other
people try not to notice, have to have keen eyes, have to notice
many things I don't, horrible and useful things, truths about this

small town lying in apparent peace and plenty by the Pacific
Ocean, truths about other people.
Last night I dreamed I was eating in a restaurant alone. At a

table near me, bare of food or utensils, sat a woman, middle-
aged, with the ruddy-sheened skin of someone who lives out-
doors. I had left half a plate of pasta, was asking for my check
when the waitress said, "Do you mind if I give it to her?"
I then understood that the woman was homeless, was waiting

for leftover food. I said, "No," and the waitress motioned the
woman over to the table where I was sitting. I realized that I was
going to have to sit there with her while she ate my leftovers.
Relative peace and plenty. I've sat in actual —not dream
restaurants, at windows where I saw poor people pausing,
scanning the posted menu, staring in at my or others' plates of
fried dumplings, moo shu pork, moving on. I've sat at white-
clothed cafe tables; a few feet beyond the bright doorway,
carefully spaced, a figure, elderly, thin, extending an arm:
"Some money please," a monotone to save the muscles of the
throat, every gesture an economy. I have had to let go of the
ignorant, the arrogant idea of my youth and middle age — that I
iio I

would always be able to manage, somehow, anywhere, under
any circumstances — the idea that has also let me take risks,
speak truth to power in my own ways, the idea that if you lost

everything you'd still have in mind the books you'd read. I see

people living on the streets and know they have capacities,
powers, learning I lack. A rigorous eye for function and value,
for human character, a quick take on what will help get
through another night, a scientific judgment for which cast-

away sandwich can be safely eaten, which can give you the bad
shits, though still smelling good with fried onions on the cris-

pening autumn air.

This isn't my territory yet, I tell myself —perhaps never. But it

feels closer to home than it once did; there are more and more
older women furiously evaluating the wares of the public
dumpsters, more and more younger women for whom this is

just how — fangs bared— ^you can get along.

The critic's task is not to try to deflate, shrink, and contain the
scope of poetry, but rather, as John Haines has written, to pro-

vide "a space in which creation can take place, a clearing in the
Haines is criticizing North American poetry for its "sporadic
and shallow response to things" — for its lack of ideas, its "casual,

happenstance character, the same self-limited frame of refer-
ence." "What is such an art beyond mere self-entertainment for

the few?" This is a poet speaking who wants more of poetry than
modesty without dullness.

Haines is himself a poet who has looked beyond North Amer-
ican "relative peace and plenty" to the cramping of human
thought and spirit that is both cause and effect of the evisceration
of not-human nature:
"A clearing in the imagination


In the forest without leaves:

forest of wires and twisted steel . . .

The seasons are of rust

and renewal,
or there are no seasons at all,

only shadows that lengthen
and grow small
sunlight on the edge of a blade.

Nothing that thrives, but metal

feeding on itself

cables for roots,

thickets of knotted iron,
and hard knots of rivets
swelling in the rain.

Not the shadows of leaves,

but shadows where the leaves might be . . .

Say after me:

I believe in the decimal,

it has divided me.

From my tent of hair

and the gut-strings that held it;

from my floor of grass
and my roof of burning cloud.
12 I
What Is Found There

I have looked back across
the waste of numerals

each tortured geometry
of township and lot

to the round and roadless vista,

to the wind-furrow
in the forest track,

when I had myself entire.

Say after me:

That freedom was weight and pain,

I am well-parted from it.

Each was too large
and the sky too great.

I beUeve in my half-life,
in the cramped joy
of partitions,
and the space they enclose . . .


Building with matches,

pulling at strings,

what games we had.

MonopoUes, cartels,

careers in the wind,

so many tradesmen of dust.
— —

A clearing in the imagination" | 113

Steam in the kettles,

blades in the cotton

big wheels went round.

And soon there was nothing
but lots and corners,
the world chopped to pieces.

Each piece had a name
and a number,
thrown in a box:

games given to children,

they too might learn
to play

grow old and crooked,

fitting the pieces,

pulling at strings.

Those who write sorrow on the earth,

who are they?

Whose erased beginnings still

control us —sentence
by sentence and phrase by phrase,

their cryptic notations vanish,

are written again

by the same elected hand.

Who are they?
What Is Found There

Remote under glass, sealed

in their towers

and conference rooms

Who are they?

Agents and clerks, masters

of sprawl
playful men who traffic in pain.

Buried in their paragraphs,
hidden in their signatures

Who are they?

Life was not a clock,

why did we always measure

and cramp our days?

Why the chain and why
the lock,

and why the chainman's tread,

marking acres and stony squares
out of the green
that was given?

To see in a forest
so much lumber to mill,

so many ricks to bum;

A clearing in the imagination" | 115

water into kilowatts,
soil into dust,

and flesh into butcher cuts

as we ourselves are

numbered, so many factors

filed in a slot.

Say after me:

The key that winds the clock

turns a lock

in the prison of days. . . .

I would rephrase the cri-tic's sentence and say: The question for a

North American poet is how to hear witness to a reaUtyfrom which the

public —and maybe part of the poet — wants, or is persuaded it wants, to

turn away. Then and only then, when this is said, can we talk

about the necessity of rejecting false theatricaUty and maudlinity,
and about all the other problems of creating an art rooted in
language, a social art, an art that is not mere self-entertainment
for the few.

When the landscape buckles and jerks around, when a dust

column of debris rises from the collapse of a block of buildings
on bodies that could have been your own, when the staves of
history fall awry and the barrel of time bursts apart, some turn to
prayer, some to poetry: words in the memory, a stained book
ii6 I
What Is Found There

carried close to the body, the notebook scribbled by hand —
center of gravity.

When you imagine trumpet-faced musicians
blowing again inimitable jazz
no art can accuse or cannonadings hurt,

or coming out of your dreams of dirigibles

again see the unreasonable cripple

throwing his crutch headlong as the headlights

streak down the torn street, as the three hammerers
go One, Two, Three on the stake, triphammer poundings
and not a sign of new worlds to still the heart;

then stare into the lake of sunset as it runs

boiling, over the west past all control

rolUng and swamps the heartbeat and repeats
sea beyond sea after unbearable suns;

think: poems fixed this landscape: Blake, Donne, Keats.
—Muriel Rukeyser
Or you might say: Senghor, Cesaire, Brathwaite, Walcott,
Brand. Or Dario, Neruda, Dalton, Paz. Or Tsvetaeva, Akh-
matova, Mandelstam. Or Sor Juana de la Cruz, Mistral, Castel-
lanos, Morejon. Or Hart Crane, Jeffers, Rukeyser. Or McKay,

Harper, Jordan, Lorde, Sanchez. Blake, Donne, and Keats are
magnificent, but they are not enough. And Rukeyser knev^ it.
Or words on a wall, anonymous:

On a long voyage I travelled across the sea.

Feeding on wind and sleeping on dew, I tasted hardships.

Even though Su Wu was detained among the barbarians, he would

"A clearing in the imagination" | 117

one day return home.
When he encountered a snow storm, Wengong sighed, thinking of

bygone years.

In days of old, heroes underwent many ordeals.

I am, in the end, a man whose goal is unfulfilled.

Let this be an expression of the torment which fills my belly.
Leave this as a memento to encourage fellow souls.

Sadly, I listen to the sounds of insects and angry surf.

The harsh laws pile layer upon layer; how can I dissipate my hatred?
Drifting in as a traveller I met with this calamity.

It is more miserable than owning only a flute in the marketplace


Or —on a different wall

En el bote del county
Con toda mi loca pasion

Puse tu placa en la celda

Y con ese pensamiento
Estoy sufiiendo mi desgracia.

(In the county jail
With all my crazy passion,
I place your name on a cell wall

And with this thought
I suffer my disgrace.)
What is an
American life?

What is an American life? What houses it?

On the Navaho reservation, hogans, trailers, small adobe
houses; on a back road near Window Rock, cardboard huts like
those in photographs of South African shantytowns or those that
cling to rusted fences under the on-ramp of the Brooklyn
Bridge. On the high mesas, Hopi adobes at the cHffs verge,
material poverty poised above transcendent blue space and si-

lence. Back of the tourist roads at the North Rim of the Grand
Canyon, workers' dorms with rusty barbecue grills, plastic toys,

and broken plastic chairs on the beaten dirt outside; the park
rangers' cabins, manicured Hke a mihtary base, flag flying in front

of the office. Mormon cottages of gingerbread wood, small well-
What is an American life? | 119

watered lawns, rosebushes in a Utah town set at the foot of
intransigent rock, mountains barren of vegetation. A Quonset
hut with a satellite dish, a pen for animals, a water tank. Tepees,
real and lived-in; others fabricated as motel units, "trading

posts." School buses driven in for migrant workers' shelter,

moored behind barbed wire at a ranch's edge. Low-crouched on
the desert, colorless prefab houses, some of which move along
the road on the flatbeds of trucks bearing them to construction

sites. On the one real street of a village nested in a mountain pass,
or left untouched by the freeway, a hand-lettered sign for the

in-home beauty parlor housed in someone's bungalow or half a
duplex: Casa de Beaute, Lila's Unisex CHp and Curl. Around
larger towns everywhere, condominium estates of relentless pas-
tel and earth tones, sameness disguised as variation, weekend
homes for the well-to-do or domiciles the bottom of the mid-
dle-class struggle to afford. Real wealth is invisible, at the ends of
long, unmarked private roads; the landing strips of private planes

don't identify themselves.
"Theme parks" proHferate, family farms go bankrupt, white
urban flight seeks its own artificial peace and plenty, silent spot-

less streets behind electric gates, suburbs that never knew an urbs,

never a civic center or heartbeat. And in the stripped and crip-
pled urbs, from Harlem to Houston to Los Angeles, new waves
of immigrant labor sleep in rented closets; children go forth to
half-gutted schools; incinerators, landfills, sewage and toxic-
waste plants are crammed next to the ghettos.

Poems fix this landscape. A full moon rises over the young
Jimmy Santiago Baca, housed in a New Mexico prison:

I saw the moon at first one blue twilight,

standing, blowing drops of breath into cold air,

standing in my prison jacket, 4:30,
120 I
What Is Found There

in the compound, circled with high granite walls,

not a stir, but glare of spotlights, the silent

guard towers and stiff-coated guards above them all.

A big bloated desert moon, there,

how held up, such a big moon? Such a passionate tear!
How, against the velvety spaciousness of purple sky,
how does it hold itself up, and so close to me! To me!

Tell me! What should it mean,
that a moon Uke a wolfs yellow eye
should stare into my eye directly?
My finger, had I raised my arm,
could have punctured it like a peach and on my head
sweet juice drips, I could have pushed my finger in,
retrieved the seed of its soul, the stern hard pupil,

and placed it upon my tongue, sucked its mighty power

of dreams! Dreams, for how I needed them,
how I howled inside, sweeping great portions of thoughts
away with steel blue blades of the hour,

this, the time of my imprisonment.

I split days open with red axes of my heart,

the days falling like trees

I chopped up into each hour
and threw into the soul's fire.

I had not known the desert's power back then.

I had not known the black-footed demons
pecking each lightray as if it were straw.

I had not known my dreams, diamond hard,
could break at the silence of dragging winds;
What is an American life? | 12

no, nor that a pebble could come to mean
a world, unlocking fear. . . .

I looked into that moon, amazed, never
having seen a moon so much mine,
gathering my plundered life into its arms.

Moon! Moon! Moon! that twilight morning,
on the way to the kitchen to have some coffee,

thinking of my ten years to do in prison,

bundled up in my jacket, my boots feeling good and firm,
walking on under the guard's eye, blinded and blank-eyed,
to my escape, my fi-eedom just then,
the guard's ears clogged, deaf,

when the moon said, "You are fi-ee,

as all that I have, winds, mountains, you are firee. . . .

David Mura, third-generation Japanese-American poet:

What does it mean when poets surrender vast realms of experi-

ence to journalists, to political scientists, economists? What does
it mean when we allow the "objectivity" of these disciplines to be

the sole voice which speaks on events and topics of relevance to
us all?

It is equal to living in a tragic land, said Wallace Stevens, to live in

a tragic time. But time and place are not separable. Time has been
tragic here for five hundred years; before that, the land was not
tragic, it was vast, fertile, generous, dangerous, filling the needs
of many forms of life. From the first invasion, the first arrogant
claiming, it became a tragic land. In all the explicit destructions,
122 I
What Is Found There

all the particular locations of the tragedy, this is the fatal contra-
diction, the knowledge Whitman couldn't bear or utter (he was
far more explicit and courageous about sex) — the great rip in the
imaginative fabric of the country-to-be: the extraordinary cru-
elty, greed, and willful obliteration on which the land of the free

was founded. Cruelty, greed, assassination of cultures are part of
aU history. But we, here, have been staggering under the weight
of a national fantasy that the history of the conquest of the
Americas, the "westward movement," was different —was a his-

tory of bravery, enlightenment, righteous claiming, service to
religious values and civilizing spirit.

What can this mean for poetry? It hardly matters if the poet
has fled into expatriation, emigrated inwardly, looked toward
Europe or Asia for models, written stubbornly of the terrible

labor conditions underpinning wealth, written from the mi-
crocosm of the private existence, written as convict or aristocrat,
as lover or misanthrope: all our work has suffered from the de-
stabihzing national fantasy, the rupture of imagination implicit in
our history.

But turn it around and say it on the other side: in a history of
spiritual rupture, a social compact built on fantasy and collective
secrets, poetry becomes more necessary than ever: it keeps the
underground aquifers flowing; it is the liquid voice that can wear
through stone.
Poets newly arriving here — ^by boat or plane or bus, on foot or
hidden in the trunks of cars, from Cambodia, from Haiti, from
Central America, from Russia, from Africa, from Pakistan, from
Bosnia-Herzegovina, from wherever people, uprooted, flee to

the land of the free, the goldene medina, the tragic promised
land —they too will have to learn all this.

What is an American life? | 123

What can it mean to say, in 1993, that we have no "emer-
gency" situation here in North America, that because this is not
Eastern Europe, South Africa, the Middle East, a poetry that
doesn't assume a matrix of normality is inauthentic, melo-
dramatic? In her memoir of her husband's persecution and exile
as an anti-Stalinist poet, Nadezhda Mandelstam charted not only
the methods of a particular system of state terrorism, but the
public psychology that accompanied it: not only fear, but self-

deception, the progressive loss of a sense of reality, the need to feel

that everything is going along as it should, and that life continues — but

that is only because the trams are running.

No one who loves life or poetry could envy the conditions
faced by any of the Eastern Europeans or Black South Africans
(for a few examples in this century) whose writings were actions
taken in the face of solitary confinement, torture, exile, at the
very least proscription from publishing or reading aloud their
work except in secret. To envy their circumstances would be to
envy their gifts, their courage, their stubborn belief in the power
of the word and that such a belief was shared (even punitively).
And it would mean wanting to substitute their specific emergen-
cies for ours, as if poets lacked predicament —and challenge
here in the United States.
Moment of proof

Nadezhda Mandelstam says that in 1952, when Anna Akh-
matova's son was being held hostage, even that proud, uncom-
promising poet wrote a couple of "positive" poems to StaUn.
They were weak poems, she says, and anyway didn't have much
effect. A poet in the United States is not under pressure to write
poems in praise of the President, a victorious general, or "de-
mocracy." A poet can write as if everything were "going along
as it should," with, perhaps, a touch of ecological melancholy or
a vignette of the homeless. But even this is not demanded. The
Kremlin officialdom, and the petty Hterary bureaucrats who
hung to its coattails, dimly understood, as our bureaucrats (and
even some of our poets) don't, that poetry is where the imagina-
tion's contraband physical and emotional imprintings are most
"Moment of proof" | 125

concentrated, most portable — traceable on a scrap of paper, a bar
of soap, able to be committed to memory as a novel or play
cannot — as only a song or a joke is portable; that it's the imagina-
tion that must be taken hostage, or terrorized, or sterilized, in

order for a totalizing unitary power to take control of people's
lives. However stupidly and brutally the Soviet hierarchy may
have grasped this, they understood it because of the residual
power of poetry in the Russian and other sovietized cultures, a

power deriving from oral cultures, still very much alive. The
dying, thrashing state corporate power now prevailing in the
United States has been able to rely —without giving it much
thought —on what Muriel Rukeyser called "the fear of poetry"
in a technologically advanced, corporate-driven society.

In a poem wryly entitled "Reading Time: i Minute 26 Sec-
onds," she evokes it:

The fear of poetry is the

fear: mystery and fury of a midnight street

of windows whose low voluptuous voice
issues, and after that there is no peace.

That round waiting moment in the

theatre: curtain rises, dies into the ceiling

and here is played the scene with the mother
bandaging a revealed son's head. The bandage is torn off.

Curtain goes down. And here is the moment of proof.

That climax when the brain acknowledges the world,
all values extended into the blood awake.

Moment of proof. And as they say Brancusi did,
building his bird to extend through soaring air,

as Kafka planned stories that draw to eternity

through time extended. And the climax strikes.
126 I
What Is Found There

Love touches so, that months after the look of
blue stare of love, the footbeat on the heart

is translated into the pure cry of birds

following air-cries, or poems, the new scene.

Moment of proof. That strikes long after act.

They fear it. They turn away, hand up palm out

fending off moment of proof, the straight look, poem.
The prolonged wound-consciousness after the bullet's shot.

The prolonged love after the look is dead,

the yellow joy after the song of the sun.

The first gesture of fending off is the implied question How
much of my time is this going to take up? The poem's title answers
with clocked, numerical precision. But the poem moves against

its title, since a poem might "take" a lifetime. Elsewhere Rukey-
ser writes:

I remember a psychologist wdth whom I talked in New Haven.
That is a good town to produce an image of the split life: it is a

spUt town, part fierce industrial city, part college, very Httle

reconciled. ... I spoke to a psychologist, a man who has made his

work and his theme the study of fear, and the talk went well
enough until poetry was mentioned. Then, with extreme vio-
lence, a violence out of any keeping with what had gone before,
the psychologist began to raise his voice and cut the air with his

hand flat. He said, his voice shaking, that he had cut poetry out of

his life, that that was something he had not time for, that was
something out of his concern.

There is fear of the experience that leaves a mark, the moment
when the brain is not split from the blood, the "moment of
proof" against which all other experience is to be tested. Of
which Audre Lorde has said:
"Moment of proof" | 127

It forms the quality of the Ught within which we predicate our

hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into

language, then into idea, then into more tangible action. Poetry is

the way we help give names to the nameless so it can be thought.
The farthest horizons of our hopes and fears are cobbled by our
poems, carved fi-om the rock experiences of our daily lives.

Survival and change. Nadezhda Mandelstam, writing in Mos-
cow in the late 1960s:

Recently I heard someone say: "It is well known that everybody

who has ever tried to make people happy only brought total disas-
ter on them." This was said by a young man who does not want to

see any changes now, in case they only bring new misfortune on

him and others. There are large numbers of people like him now-
adays —among the more or less well-off, needless to say. They are
mostly young speciaUsts and scientists whose services are needed
by the State. They live in inherited apartments of two (or even
three or four) rooms, or they can expect to get one fi-om the

organization in which they work. They are horrified at what their

fathers have wrought, but they are even more horrified by the
thought of change. Their ideal is to pass their Uves quietly work-
ing at their computers, not bothering their heads about the pur-

pose or result, and devoting their free time to whatever gives
them pleasure.

Iwonder where they are now in — their fifties, sixties — those
once-young people who, not bothering their heads about . . . purpose
or result, fitted so well and so fatalistically as cogs in a brutal and
doomed technocracy. But no one then guessed it was doomed;
no one then, after the Prague spring of 1968, could have told
them how shudderingly it would come apart.
Historyy stop
fo r no one''

It was not natural. And she was the first. . . .

A poet can read. A poet can write.
A poet African in Africa, or Irish in Ireland, or French on the left

bank of Paris, or white in Wisconsin. A poet writes in her own language.
A poet writes of her own people, her own history, her own vision, her
own room, her own house where she sits at her own table quietly placing

one word after another word until she builds a line and a movement and
an image and a meaning that somersaults all of these into the singing, the
absolutely individual voice of the poet: at liberty. A poet is somebody
free. A poet someone at home.

How should there be Black poets in America?
—-June Jordan, "The Difficult Miracle
of Black Poetry in America"

Zi shemt zikh/Shc is ashamed

Zi shemt zikh

She has forgotten

forgotten it all.
"History stops for no one" 129

Whom can I speak to?
she wonders. . . .

Mit vemen
ken ikh redn?
Whom can I speak to?

di meysim farshteyen
mir afile nit

even the ghosts
do not understand me.

In derfemd

among strangers

iz hir heym
is her home.
-Irena Klepfisz, "D/ rayze aheymj
The Journey Home"

To have as birthright a poetic tradition that everyone around
you recognizes and respects is one kind of privilege. At very
least, it lets you know what you hold in your hands, as person
and artist. Like a strong parent who both teaches and browbeats,
can be learned from, stormed away from, forgiven, but whose
influence can never be denied. Like a family from which, even
in separation, you bring away certain gestures, tones, ways of
looking: something taken for granted, perhaps felt as constric-
tion, nonetheless a source, a point of departure.
Until recently. North American poetry has largely been the
province of people who possessed —or took on through educa-
tion — a literary family tree beginning with the King James Bible,
the Greek and Latin classics, branching into the Renaissances of
Europe and England, and transported to the colonies by the
colonizers as part of their civilizing mission to the wilderness.
On that mission, they violently disrupted the original poetry of
130 I
What Is Found There

this continent, inseparable as it was and is from Indian Hfe. In the

determination to destroy tribal Ufe, poetry had to be desecrated.
Later, the descendants of the desecraters collected, transcribed,
and printed surviving Indian songs and chants as artifacts of a

"vanishing" people. Only in the late twentieth century, a renais-
sance of American Indian culture has produced a new^, written,
poetic literature expressive of indigenous people who, in the
words of the poet Chrystos, are emphatically "Not Vanishing."
Africans carried poetry in contraband memory across the

Middle Passage to create in slavery the "Sorrow Songs." A
young girl in slavery in Boston, Phillis Wheatley, mastered
Anglo-American metrics and conventions to become, after

Anne Bradstreet, the second woman (and the first Black) poet
published in this country. African-American poets have had to
invent and synthesize a language in which to be both African and
American, to "write . . . towards the personal truth" of being
African- American and create a poetics of that experience. They
have above all created a musical language, jazz, which has incal-
culably affected the national poetic language.
Such writers —men and women of color, poets born to a

language other than English, lesbian and gay poets, poets writing
in the upsurge of the women's poetry movement of the past
twenty years —have not started in cultural poverty even though
their cultures have been ruptured and misprized. The relation-
ship to more than one culture, nonassimilating in spirit and
therefore living amid contradictions, is a constant act of self-

creation. I see the life of North American poetry at the end of

the century as a pulsing, racing convergence of tributaries

regional, ethnic, racial, social, sexual — that, rising from lost or
long-blocked springs, intersect and infuse each other while
reaching back to the strengths of their origins. (A metaphor,
perhaps, for a future society of which poetry, in its present sus-

pect social condition, is the precursor.)
"History stops for no one" | 131

One paradigm of this poetry of cultural re-creation is the

work of Irena Klepfisz. It begins with a devastating exterior
event: the destruction of European Jewry in the Nazi period
through the genocide known as the Holocaust or, in Yiddish, der

khurbn. "The Yiddish word was important, for, unlike the term

Holocaust, it resonated with yidishe geshikte,] ewish. history, link-
ing the events of World War II with der erste und tsveyster khurbn,

the First and Second Destruction (of the Temple)." Bom in

1 94 1 in the Warsaw Ghetto, this poet is unequivocally rooted in
the matrix of history. Beginning with almost total loss —of fam-
ily, community, culture, country, and language — she has taken

up the task of re-creating herself as Jew, woman, and writer by
facing and learning to articulate that destruction. If she had
stopped there, had become only the author of her early poems
and of "Bashert, " her work would have claimed a unique place
in the poetry that necessarily, and stubbornly, came after Ausch-

But Klepfisz goes further, not by way of leaving behind der

khurbn —an impossibility for any Jew or any other person who
wants to understand living in the twentieth century —but by
searching, through her poetry, for what is possible in a world
where this was possible. Most poets emerge with existence itself

as a given (though not always with literacy as a given, literature

as a given). This poet cannot:

during the war
germans were known
to pick up infants

by their feet

swing them through the air
132 I
What Is Found There

and smash their heads

against plaster walls

i managed
to escape that fate.

Lines Hke graffiti on a wall. The consciousness that, precisely,
existence itself is not to be taken for granted will impel her
What does it mean to be a Holocaust survivor or a child of

survivors? The question has haunted Jewish life worldwide since
1945 —through denial and silence, through amnesia and myth-
ologizing, through a search for resonance. Certainly in the
United States it has had its own reverberations and failures of
resonance. For Klepfisz this is not just a question of present
meaning, but of lost, irreplaceable resources, cultural and emo-
tional riches destroyed or scattered before she could know them.
The question for her is, then, also what it can mean to grow up
as a Jew in the United States in the years after der khurhn; to grow
into a Jewish woman, single, childless, a lesbian, an artist from a

community of survivors who see their great hope for meaning in
a new generation of Jewish children. What is allowed, what is

available, to the poet located in these ways?
Before der khurhn, Yiddish poetry — the tradition Klepfisz
might, "under other circumstances," have possessed as a contin-
uing heritage —was largely written by men yet in the language
called mame-loshen or "mother tongue": vivid, emotionally vi-

brant, vernacular, as opposed to Hebrew, the language of schol-
arship and religious study, reserved for men only. Yiddish was a

people's language, a women's language, the language of the Ash-
kenazic Jewish diaspora. The women poets of this tradition
"History stops for no one" | 133

(many of them still untranslated, so that we have but a few
names: CeHa Dropkin, Anna Margolin, Kadia Molodowsky,
Fradel Schtok, Malka Tussman among them) were known as
more sexually frank than the men; but even of them the Anglo-
phone reader knows only what's translated. It's a dead end to try

to imagine what might have become of Yiddish poetry — or of
Klepfisz as a poet — in a different history. The only history is the

one we know, however imperfectly — that a great Western cul-
tural movement was exterminated not only under the Nazis, but
under Stalinism. Being "Western" didn't save this movement.
And,to the present day, many Europeans of both East and West,

many Americans of both North and South are unaware of, or
indifferent to, this.

The great flowering of Yiddish Uterature took place in the late

nineteenth and early twentieth centuries along with the rise of
Jewish secularism and the Jewish labor and sociaHst movements.
Out of these traditions, history uprooted Irena Klepfisz, deposit-
ing her into a community of survivors in New York.

In a time when speculative biography has been displacing
serious writing about poets and poetry, I touch on this poet's

personal history with some reluctance and only because it seems
to me inseparable from a serious reading of her work. We have
seen an obsession with intimate details, scandals, the clinical or

triviahzing reduction of artists' Hves.The biographies of poets
are commodities. It is also true that when a poet who is not male

(or white) writes from direct experience, this poetry is subsumed
as mere documentary or polemicizing. If I speak here, then, of
experiences from which Klepfisz's poetry has been precipitated,
it's because historical necessity has made her the kind of poet she
134 I
What Is Found There

is: neither a "universal" nor a "private" stance has been her

The ghettos of the Nazi period were part of a deliberate plan
to destroy the Jewish people in their entirety. Throughout Po-
land, thousands of Jews were forced to retreat into increasingly

densely populated areas enclosed by walls and barbed wire. By
1940 nearly half a million Jews were locked, compressed, within
the Warsaw Ghetto; by 1941, the year of Klepfisz's birth, the
penalty for attempting to escape was death. Of course, they were
all under sentence of death: 83,000 Jews died from hunger and
disease within twenty months in the Warsaw Ghetto alone. The
ghettos were holding pens for Jews destined for forced labor
camps and ultimate destruction — bases for selective deportation.

Throughout the ghettos Jews organized armed resistance

movements. In Warsaw they constructed tunnels leading to the

sewer system for escape and for bringing in arms and explosives.
In street-to-street and under-street fighting the Jews held out. In

April 1943 the Nazis decided to subdue the ghetto with an air
attack. In this battle Michal Klepfisz, the poet's father, was killed.

Because her mother had blue eyes and spoke fluent PoUsh, she
and her child were able to pass and were hidden by Polish peas-
ants. PoUsh became Klepfisz's first language. They emigrated
after the war to Sweden, then to the United States when Klepfisz
was eight years old, where she learned English in school while
Hving in a world of spoken Yiddish: a world of people who had
carried the remains of their culture to another continent — in

their memories, in old snapshots and documents, archives res-

cued from conflagration, reconstituted institutions. And, not
least, Klepfisz's mother, as a presence in her poems, embodies
continuity, endurance, and the oral tradition's access to the lost.

"History stops for no one" | 135

The shattering of a culture is the shattering not only of artistic

and poHtical webs, but of the webs of family and community
within which these are first nurtured and transmitted. Two long
early poems, unpublished till 1990, deHneate the search for what
has most intimately been lost: the father-hero-martyr-deserter,

whose absence becomes enormous presence:

These two:
widow and half-orphan

survived and now resided
in a three-room apartment
with an ivy-covered fire escape

which at night

clutched like a skeleton

at the child's bedroom wall . . .

The missing one
was surely
the most


And when the two crowded
into the kitchen at night

he would press himself between them
pushing, thrusting, forcing them to remember,

even though he had made his decision,

had chosen his own way . . .

he would press himself between them
hero and betrayer
legend and deserter
136 I
What Is Found There

so when they sat down to eat

they could taste his ashes.

But the search is also for all "those whom I would have known/
had circumstances been different." Had circumstances been different:

a terse, matter-of-fact phrase behind which lies all the unprova-
ble: history reversed or unwinding differently, the possibility of
having Hved "an ordinary Ufe," the Hfe of "common things,

gestures and events" that Klepfisz invokes elsewhere, to have
become not the chikl survivor Ugh ting candles "for all the chil-

dren/who have perished," but a child playing with other chil-

dren, in Jewish Warsaw, in the yidishe svive, in a home peopled
with parents, extended family, worker-intellectuals.
But because "history stops for no one," Klepfisz has gone on
to write poetry of uncompromising complexity, clothed in ap-
parently simple, even spare, language —simple and bare as the
stage of a theater in which strict economies of means release a

powerful concentrate of feeling.

There is extraordinary vitality in Klepfisz's early poems on
women in the Holocaust. Images and voices rush. They flood-

light a neglected dimension of the resistance to genocide: the
survival strategies, the visceral responses, of women. They bum
and bristle with urgency, contained within a disciplined and
crafted poetics.

when they took us to the shower i saw
the rebitsin her sagging breasts sparse

pubic hairs i knew and remembered
the old rebe and turned my eyes away
"History stops for no one" | 137

i could still hear her advice a woman
with a husband a scholar

when they turned on the gas i smelled

it first coming at me pressed myself

hard to the wall crying rebitsin rebitsin

i am here with you and the advice you gave me
i screamed into the wall as the blood burst from
my lungs cracking her nails in women's flesh i watched
her capsize beneath me my blood in her mouth i screamed

when they dragged my body into the oven i burned
slowly at first i could smell my own flesh and could
hear them grunt with the weight of the rebitsin
and they flung her on top of me and i could smell
her hair burning against my stomach

when i pressed through the chimney
it was sunny and clear my smoke
was distinct i rose quiet left her

"death camp" is a poem of death so alive that its smoke re-

mains in our nostrils. As in other Klepfisz poems, control of tone
and image allow the wild and desperate quahty of experience to
be heard. In "perspectives on the second world war," a "ter-

ror" — the woman hiding with her child, her hallucinating pre-
science of worse possibilities — is juxtaposed with a point later in

time when to speak of such things would be "too impolite" in
detached "conversations over brandy." These poems engage
physical and moral immediacy in ways that make them continu-
ingly urgent. In them, Klepfisz takes the considerable risk of

trying to bear witness to this part of her history without compro-
138 I
What Is Found There

mise and without melodrama. She succeeds because she is a poet,

not only a witness.

''Bashert" (Yiddish for "fated," "predestined") is a poem un-
like any other I can think of in North American, includingjew-
ish-American, poetry. It delineates not only the survivor experi-

ence (in the skin of the mother "passing" as gentile with her
young daughter), but what happens after survival — the life that

seems to go on but cannot persevere; the life that does go on,
struggling with a vast alienation, in a state of "equidistance from
two continents," trying to fathom her place as a Jew in the larger
American gentile world, first as a student

walking home alone at midnight. The university seems an island

ungrounded. Most of its surrounding streets have been emptied.
On some, all evidence of previous life removed except for occa-

sional fringes of rubbish that reveal vague outlines that hint at

things that were. On others, old buildings stiU stand, though these
are hollow like caves, once of use and then abandoned. . . . Every-
thing is waiting for the emptiness to close in on itself, for the

emptiness to be filled in, for the emptiness to be swallowed and

A landscape that might be some blasted Jewish ghetto of postwar
Europe but is actually the edges of a Black ghetto surrounding an
elite American university:

I see the rubble of this unbombed landscape, see that the city, like

the rest of this alien country, is not simply a geographic place, but
a time zone, an era in which I, by my very presence in it, am
rooted. No one simply passes through. History keeps unfolding
and demanding a response. A life obliterated around me, of those
I barely noticed. A life A silent mass mi-
unmarked, unrecorded.
gration. Relocation. Common rubble in the streets.
"History stops for no one" | 139

This is not the mass-marketed immigrant experience. The poem
is not about fmding safety, freedom, a better Hfe in America. It

stares down the American myth that if you are just hardworking,
virtuous, motivated, tenacious enough, the dream of freedom,
security, and happiness can be reaUzed. In its rhythmic, relent-
less, almost choral double dedication, it invokes the random and
various shapes of death and survival. "Bashert" mourns the dead
and the survivor alike, defying such ideas as that the fittest sur-

vive or that victims "choose" their destiny. Moving between
poetry and blocks of prose in a poem where everything is made
concrete and there are no cloudy generalities or abstract pro-
nouncements, Klepfisz has written one of the great "border-
land" poems —poems that emerge from the consciousness of
being of no one geography, time zone, or culture, of moving
inwardly as well as outwardly between continents, landmasses,
eras of history; or, as Chicana poet Gloria Anzaldua expresses it,

in "a constant state of mental nepantilism, an Aztec word mean-
ing torn between ways.''A consciousness that cannot be, and
refuses to be, assimilated. A consciousness that tries to claim all its

legacies: courage, endurance, vision, fierceness of human will,

and also the underside of oppression, the distortions that quaran-
tine and violent deracination inflict on the heart. When I say that

"Bashert" is a poem unlike any other, I mean this through and
through: in its form, in its verse and prose rhythms, in its insis-

tence on memory without nostalgia, its refusal to let go.

And yet, as the poetry of this continent has become increas-
ingly a poetry written by the displaced, by American Indians
moving between the cities and the reservations, by African-
Americans, Caribbean-Americans, by the children of the intern-
ment camps for Japanese-Americans in World War II, by the
children of Angel Island and the Chinese Revolution, by Mexi-
can-Americans and Chicanos with roots on both sides of the
border, by political exiles from Latin America, "Bashert" takes
140 I
What Is Found There

its place (as does Klepfisz's poetry as a whole) in a multicultural

Hterature of discontinuity, migration, and difference. Much of
this new hterary flowering is also lesbian or gay, feminist, and
working class.

Displacement invents its poetics out of a mixture of traditions
and styles, out of the struggle to name what has been unname-
able in the dominant European traditions. (Yiddish itself has
been disparaged by the privileging of Hebrew on the one hand
and English on the other.) It is often a bilingual poetry, incor-
porating patois and languages other than English, not in allusion
to Western or Asian high culture, as in Modernist poems of the
1920s and after, but because bilingualism is both created by the
experience of being migrant, immigrant, displaced, and expres-
sive of the divisions as well as the resources of difference. Klep-
fisz's bilingual poems do not —and this is significant —drop Yid-
dish phrases in a cosy evocation of an idealized past, embodied in

bubbe and zayde, or as a kind ofJewish seasoning on an American
tongue. Poems such as "Di rayze aheymlThe Journey Home,"
''Etlekhe verier oyf mame-loshenj h few words in the mother
tongue," or "Fradel Schtok" painfully explore the world of a
writer located not only between landscapes, but also between
languages; the words of the mother tongue are handled and
savored with extreme delicacy, as a precious yet also tenuous
legacy. In "Fradel Schtok" we enter the mind of a poet trying to
change languages, far more internally rupturing than the change
of countries. We meet Fradel Schtok at the moment when she
feels her native language fading. ''Di rayze aheym," in decep-
tively simple and brief phrases, transposes How shall I sing the

Lord's song in a strange land? — that ancient Jewish lament — into

How shall I remember, how shall I speak, in the language of an alien

"History stops for no one" | 141

culture? There is a paradox here: Klepfisz uses the Anglo-
American language with enormous sensitivity, consciousness,

and art. But these qualities emerge not from a triumphant lin-

guistic posture, but precisely from her refusal to pretend that it is

the language of choice or the supremely expressively language.
In v^hite North America, poetry has been set apart from the
practical arts, from political meaning, and also from "entertain-
ment" and the accumulation of wealth — thus, pushed to the

margins of life. Klepfisz, inheriting an entwined European-
Jewish-Socialist-Bundist political tradition and a Yiddish cul-
tural tradition, naturally refuses such "enclosures." In particular,
the refusal to segregate art from daily life and work is a pressing

concern for her. And surely the Holocaust itself — as well as the
tradition ofyidishkayt —demands a renewed vision of what art

poetry, in this instance — stands for and against. Theodor
Adorno's drastic statement that "after Auschwitz, to write a
poem is barbaric" has to be severely parsed. If taken at face value,
it would mean a further desolation even than we have already
had to face. German Jew who lived for many years as a
Adorno, a

refugee in the United States, may have forgotten the ancient role
of poetry in keeping memory and spiritual community alive. On
the other hand, his remark might be pondered by all poets who
too fluently fmd language for what they have not yet absorbed,
who see human suffering as "material." Klepfisz's art resists such

temptations, both through the force and beauty of her work, and
by the ways in which she demands accountability of art.

Survivorhood isn't a stasis; the survivor isn't an artifact, de-
spite efforts perhaps to reify or contain her, give her the lines we
think she ought to speak. Klepfisz's poems are the work of a

woman who feels, acts, and creates in Hving time: a feminist, a
142 I
What Is Found There

lesbian, an activist in the women's movement for many years, an
essayist and editor as v^ell as a poet. She writes sometimes from
cities window box, a potted plant, a zoo, an arboretum
where a

become "mnemonic devices" for the natural world and "water
is a rare sight . . . but it can/be reached"; sometimes from a
countryside or a shoreline where

she'd never before been forced to distinguish

herself from trees or sand and sea and it became ob
vious that when it came to rocks she could never prove

her own distinctness.

From the urban plant that sensualizes the apartment where two
women make love, or the fiercely generative tangle of narcissus

roots in a glass jar, to a garden of wildflowers transplanted with

uneven success to the "inhospitable soil" of a former garage, the
sudden wildness of a city cat transplanted to the country, hving
things are charged in these poems by a fresh and totally unsenti-

mental consciousness. There is a tough and searching empathy;
the poet is not outside of nature, looking in: she is observant and
participant, a different yet kindred being who instinctively re-

sponds to growth, deprivation, persistence, wildness, tameness.
Klepfisz is also one of those artists who, within and by means
of her art, explores the material conditions by which the imagi-
native impulse, which belongs to no gender, race, or class, can
be realized or obstructed. "Contexts" places the child's passion

for words alongside the seamstress-mother's recognition of how
bread must be put on the table; the poet-proofreader along with
the aging bHnd scholar for whom she works; the worker going
home wearily by subway with the beggar working the car.
"Work Sonnets" depict the crushing of dreamlife and imagina-
tion in those who, because of class, race, and gender, get written
off by capitahsm and its need for robots: they are not expected to
"History stops for no one" | 143

dream. But the woman clerical worker who finally speaks in the

poem has a dreamlife, if a buried one, and has evolved her own
strategies for survival, calculating closely her participation in the
system —and even, ironically, in the poem. These poems are

political to the core without a single hortatory line. Like their
author, they do not take their existence for granted.
Later poems examine the pain and necessity of a Jew who
identifies with the Palestinians under Israeli occupation. From
the Warsaw Ghetto resistance to the intifada her trajectory is


All of us part. You move off in a separate

direction. The rest of us return
to the other Jerusalem. It is night.

I still hear your voice. It is in the air

now with everything else except sharper
clearer. I think of your relatives

your uncles and aunts I see the familiar

battered suitcases cartons with strings

stuffed pillowcases

children sitting on people's shoulders
children running to keep up . . .

... If I forget thee

Oh Jerusalem Jerusalem Hebron
Ramallah Nablus Qattana . . .

. . . may I forget

my own past my pain
the depth of my sorrows.

Throughout, this poetry asks fundamental questions about the
uses of history. That it does so from a rootedness in Jewish
history, an unassimilated location, is one part of its strength. But
144 I
What Is Found There

history alone doesn't confer this strength; the poet's continuing

labor with Jewish meaning does. The other part, of course, is the
integrity of its poetics. A Klepfisz poem lives amid complex
tensions even when its texture may appear transparent. There is a

voice, sometimes voices, in these poems that can often best be
heard by reading aloud. Her sense of phrase, of line, of the shift

of tone is almost flawless. But perfection is not what Irena Klep-
fisz is after. A tension among many forces —language, speech-
lessness, memory, politics, irony, compassion, hunger for what is

lost, hunger for a justice still to be made —makes this poetry
crucial to the new unfoldings of history that we begin, in the

1990s, to imagine.
The transgressor

The other night I watched Costa- Gavras's film Missing on the
VCR—a political film about the collaboration of the United
States with right-wing coups in Latin America in the name of
protecting our business interests. But the story, the reason we
watch, is the quest of a father— a conservative Christian Scientist

from upstate New York—who goes to a Latin American coun-
try held in terror by a newly installed junta to find his errant son,
"missing" because the young man has asked too many questions,
been too sympathetic with the wrong side. It's the story of a loss

of innocence, of parent-child bonds stronger than ideology, of
the political education to which these lead.
This is a father/son story, in part a father/daughter-in-law
146 I
What Is Found There

story (Jack Lemmon and Sissy Spacek walking off arm in arm in
the fmal shot, united at last in grief and anger). The fundamental
motivating force, the impulse transcending life-style and genera-
tion, is the father's determination to recover his son, in uneasy
alliance with the far less naive daughter-in-law's determination
to fmd her husband. It'smade clear early on that the older man
can get attention that the young woman cannot, can elicit male
acknowledgment and surface deference even while he's being
spun about in the webs of official collaboration with the death
The father's passion for the son (tested, as with Isaac and
Abraham; mourning, as David for Absalom) has been a vali-

dated passion, involving not only love, but the transfer of
power and privilege, initiation into male identity and ritual

the hunt, the whorehouse, sports, prayer, the field of war. The
mother's passion for the son is an accused passion: accused
of weakening, of binding, of castrating. Feminists too have
found it problematic, seeing maternal pride and energy diverted
from daughters in preference for sons, or the instrumental
mother sending her sons to war for the State. Accusations against
the mother, whatever her uses of her passions, proliferate in any
event, wherever social institutions fall short of human needs and


In 1989, theAcademy of American Poets awarded the La-
mont Prize for a distinguished second book of poetry to a collec-
tion of poems charged by a lesbian mother's passion for her sons.
That is not its only impulse. It is charged as much by the poet's
passion for life, a woman's Hfe vaguely unfolding until shocked

out of innocence into politics, much as Costa-Gavras's straight
The transgressor mother | 147

American father is shocked out of innocence into politics: the

pain of hving becomes more than you can explain by your previ-
ous interpretations of the world. It addresses also the question of
secrets —what can be told in the face of fear and shame, what can
get heard, if told: the secret spoken yet unreceived because it is

dissonant with the harmonies we like to hear. And, as the title

suggests, this is a book about nature — literally, the natural world
as spiritual resource and as home-out-of-home, including rivers,

creatures, seasons, shells, blood, mud, the mother's body, the
son's body, the bodies of same-sex lovers. It unsettles definitions

of what is "natural" and definitions of criminality.
Minnie Bruce Pratt's Crime against Nature is, for a number of
reasons, a work at the poetic crossroads. It extends the subject
of love poetry; it extends the subject of feminist and lesbian
poetry; it looks in several directions through the lens of a strong,
sensuous poetics, through that fusion of experience with imagi-
nation that is the core of poetry, and through cadences founded
in the music of speech, tightened and drawn to an individual

Pratt emerged as a poet in the women's liberation movement
in the 1970s with a substantial chapbook. The Sound of One Fork
(1981), and later a first volume. We Say We Love Each Other
(1985), published by a lesbian-feminist press. From the first her
talent has been striking, her poems rooted in the landscape and
culture of the southeastern United States, in female thwartedness
and anger, in the ferment of a time when the women's move-
ment was being catalyzed out of the African- American, antiwar,
and other movements for liberation. The Sound of One Fork is a

poetry fresh with the release of long-repressed themes:

I used to drive down the coast to sleep with her,

past the faded grey fields of sand and houses
148 I
What Is Found There

closed up for the night. Sometimes there was a glow in the east

hke the fires of the paper mill at Riegelwood, but then
I would curve suddenly where the land flattened to swamp
and the moon would flash orange, rise and turn
yellow as her hair, white and cool as her turned back.

All the way down the moon shone through me.
I was transparent with desire and longing,
clear as glass and ready to break under her look.
The moon shone down on my hands curled

right around the steering wheel, shone down
into the ditch beside the road,

into the oiled water drifting there,

reflected black light back into the stars,

poured down again into the throats of the pitcher plants,

onto the white arms of the bracted sedge, shone
down on the teeth and hinged open jaws
of the Venus' fly trap, its oval leaves like eyelids

fringed with green lashes, its leaves curved

together like clasped palms with fingers intertwined.

We Say We Love Each Other takes as a given love and desire
between w^omen and explores the geography within which they
are enacted — a geography in which women begin to speak of
what had formerly gone into diaries, burned; in which rape and
racial violence continue, uprooted rural women, Black and
white, plant urban gardens, and two women lovers struggle

to stay together. Pratt's love poems have never been roman-
tic or Utopian (the title of the poem I quote from above
^'Romance" — is ironic). Their power is fused in a conjunction
of achingly erotic images and the facts of a world beyond: heli-
copter searchlights outside a window, the torn fabric of a
The transgressor mother | 149

woman's plaid shirt, an ice storm, a smashed bottle, a political

meeting, memories of women on a screened porch in the rural
South, the invasion of Grenada, or

. . . the place of the Piscataway

and the Nanticoke, of fugitives, and runaway slaves: their homes
built in the low places: com patches, pigs, rockfish

in hand's reach, the children raised under no owner,
maple seeds into wings like green grasshoppers, surmner
fevers, the messages, plans for rebellion and freeing the land,
the sudden bloody raids . . .

by fall, the brief grass shelters overrun

with catbrier, bullbrier, wild grape, and the struggle begun
somewhere else, a river lowland, the Mobile, the Tombigbee,

or in the river of grass, Pahokee, Okeefenokee, or north

along the Savannah, the Altamaha, the Cape Fear, the Mattaponi,
the Potomac.

Is this lesbian poetry? Yes —and most potently — ^because it is

grounded in and insistent to grasp the poet's own white southern
Christian culture with its segregated history and legacy of con-
tradictions, the beauty and sorrow of its landscape, its sexual
codes and nightmares. She knows the region's living creatures,
how they move and unfold, how wild country and gardens co-
exist; she pays attention to people; she tries to "remember, and
failing that, invent" (Monique Wittig) where a white woman
can stand in that heritage. Is this "southern poetry?" Yes — in a

new way: the white woman turned outsider as lesbian connects
differently with the white southern literary tradition. Agrarians

and Fugitives, required reading in college, Allen Tate, John
Crowe Ransom, their loyalties and affiliations with the Confed-
erate dead. And she connects differently with her own ancestors.
I50 I
What Is Found There

Pratt knows the soil of Alabama as a native, while recognizing
where her people's land rights and privileges came from, and at

whose cost.

The exphcit eroticism of the poems — tangled always in the
search for mutual knowledge — has been appreciatively noted.
What has received less attention, perhaps, is that the sexual

women in these poems are activists whose bedroom is never far

removed from what happens in the streets. It should go without
saying, but probably doesn't, that no lesbian or gay bedroom
in whatever gentrified neighborhood or tent pitched off the
Appalachian trail — is a safe harbor from bigotry (and for some,
not only bigotry, but lethal violence). But, of course, we'd like

to write our poems of lying before or after love, naked in late

morning sun, 'Tl Pastor Fido" or Nina Simone in the back-

ground, door innocently meadow or fire es-
ajar to balcony or
cape or tent roof dappled with reflected lake water. And some-
times we do, wishfully evoking a privacy we know is always
under siege, an innocence we can't really aflbrd. (I'm not speak-
ing of AIDS now, which has given rise to a remarkable poetry of
its own.) But the energy of Pratt's erotic poetry derives not only
from a female sensuaHty only now beginning to fmd its way into
poetry, but from the inseparability of sensuality from politics. To
act on a criminalized sensuality demands, in this poet's experi-
ence, many kinds of decriminaHzation —not only of sexual acts,
but of poverty, skin, diflerence.

Crime against Nature goes to the heart of that experience: the
lesbian losing custody of her two young sons because of her
sexual "crime" and her refusal to hide it—her rationed visita-
tions with them, their long-distance relationship, her self-

The transgressor mother |

accusations, the accusations of others, her struggle to maintain

both her integrity and her bonds with her children. Yet the
mother's passion holds with her sons; they are bound together by
affmities beyond gender or sexuality. Their attachment has to
find its way past the terms of accusation, the scenarios of guilt,

I could do nothing. Nothing. Do you
understand? Women ask: Why didn't you — ?

like they do of women who've been raped.
And I ask myself: Why didn't I? Why
didn't I run away with them? Or face
him in court? Or
Ten years ago I

answered myself: No way for children to live.
Or: The chance of absolute loss. Or:

I did the best I could. It was not
—"The Child Taken from the Mother"

The first question is: What do your children
think of you? No interest in the kudzu-green
burial of the first house I lived in,

nor in the whiskey, the heat, or the people sweating
in church under huge rotate hands in the ceiling.

The question is never the Selma march, and me

breathing within thirty miles, or the sequence

of Dante . . .

—"The First Question"
152 I
What Is Found There

and through memories of visitations, trips to the water, long car
drives in the dark,

live heat

changed at midnight speed to wind,
our mouths singing, drinking the humid
cool breath of trees, and yelling swift

blackness to come home with us, reckless

in the deep night, carrying everything with us,

all life and even death without a pause before us,

the sudden red-eyed possum, live eyes

dead, impossible but gone, our cries,

grief, and them questioning me, miles,

or perhaps this happened after the curve

we hurtled and the moon, huger than a world
directly in the road, moved our moves,

low orange eye, high hot- white when we got home.
—"The First Question"

This, one can say, is the "plot" of the book; but to say it is only a
Crime against Nature is in fact a long poem, a form tow^ard
which Pratt has been working since "The Segregated Heart" in

The Sound of One Fork or the "Waulking Songs" and "Reading
Maps" sequences in We Say We Love Each Other. We can read it

as a narrative poem, along the Hnes of the "plot" sketched above.
Or we can read it as a sequence of love poems, of a kind we
haven't seen before. The agonist, the lover, is lesbian; her sexual
hungers are for women. The love in these poems, being love for

The transgressor mother | 153

her sons, is cross-gender but forbidden —not only because, le-

gally and patriarchally, "lesbian" is equated with "unfit

mother," but because, as the poems reveal, this is a subversive

maternality, hardly of the cookies-and-milk or "with your shield
or on it" variety. Moreover, the mother speaks not only from
her love for her sons, but from her need to be, and for them to

see her, as she is. This is the poetry of an undomesticated passion.
The dedicatory poem "For My Sons" places itself against a

tradition of paternal poetry:

. . . Coleridge at midnight,

Yeats' prayer that his daughter lack opinions,

his son be high and mighty, think and act . . .

When you were bom, my first, what I thought was
milk With you, my youngest, I did not
. . .

think . . .

Your father was then
the poet I'd ceased to be . . .

It's taken me years to write this to you.
... I can only pray:
That you'll never ask for the weather, earth,

angels, women, or other lives to obey you;

that you'll remember me, who crossed, recrossed

as a woman making slowly toward
an unknown place where you could be with me,
like a woman on foot, in a long stepping out.

The poems are dug out of long silence

A huge sound waits, bound in the ice,
in the icicle roots, in the buds of snow
154 I
What Is Found There

on fir branches, in the falling silence

of snow, glittering in the sun . . .

— "Justice, Come Down*'

— a silence not only the poet's, but created by lack of resonance.
I Woman and Child,
think of Kathe Kollwitz's images: Begging
Mother Pressing Infant to Her Face, Peasant Woman Holding Child,
Woman with Dead Child, Sleeping Woman with Child. But we lack
the concept of a mother whose children are Hving yet absent
the apparently childless mother. (Photographs of the Madres de
Plaza de Mayo come to mind, women testifying to the disap-

pearance of their children.) Pratt conjures such images: women
in a lesbian bar

... to go in

here is to enter where my own suffering exists
as an almost unheard low note in the music,
amplified, almost unbearable, by the presence
of us all, reverberant pain, circular, endless,

which we speak of hardly at all, unless a woman
in the dim privacy tells me a story of her child
lost, now or twenty years ago, her words sliding

like a snapshot out of her billfold, faded outline

glanced at and away from, the story elliptic, oblique

to avoid the dangers of grief. The flashes of story
brilliant and grim as strobe lights in the dark,

the dance shown as grimace, head thrown back in pain . . ,

All the women caught in flaring light, glimpsed
in mystery: The red-lipped, red-fingertipped woman
who dances by, sparkling like fire, is she here on the sly,

four girls and a husband she'll never leave from fear?
The transgressor mother | 155

The butch in black denim, elegant as ashes, her son

perhaps sent back, a winter of no heat, a woman's salary.
The quiet woman drinking gin, thinking of being sixteen,

the baby wrinkled as wet clothes, seen once, never again.

Loud music, hard to talk, and we're careful what we say.

A few words, some gesture of our hands, some bit of story
cryptic as the mark gleaming on our hands, the ink

tattoo, the sign that admits us to this room, iridescent
in certain kinds of Ught, then vanishing, invisible.
—"All the Women Caught in Flaring Light"


A darkened room. Color film stutters

on the screen. We watch a crowd falter

and surge at crossroads, demanding water.
A dark woman talks about her children. We hear

the parched land, the deaths, the miles.

She sits locked in barracks, steel,

not prison, off-hours fi-om a company job.
No children allowed, just hotplates, cots.

A fiiend brings the children to her. At the gate
no one in or out. Guards see to that.

She reaches her hands to them through the fence,
through an iron grill, to the heads of her children.
—"Seven Times Going,
Seven Times Coming Back"
156 I
What Is Found There

Crime against Nature might be read as a woman's testimony
her statement to the court, facing the judgment not only of
family, law, society, but of the internal prosecutor — in brief, as a

defense. But to read it so is to sell its emotional range and values
short. This is the narrative of a woman self-described as

wilful, voluble,

lascivious, a thinker, a long walker,

unstruck transgressor, furious, shouting,
voluptuous, a lover, smeUer of blood,
milk, a woman mean as she can be some nights
—"Poem for My Sons"

— insistent on her poetry, on her sexuality, but equally insistent

on her bonds with her children. Just as, in her erotic poems,
Pratt breaks the silence of sexual taboo, so here she breaks the
silence that would stifle that other part of her: a mother. Against
a system of thinking where women are either mothers full time
and "fit" or "nonmothers" (by default or because ruled
"unfit"), she reveals another possibility: a motherhood whose
meaning has to be constructed, invented, by the forbidden
mother in collusion with her children. And, because the mother
is a poet, this invention must be made not only in life, but in
This, then, is the narrative of the transgressor mother. And, of
necessity, the voice ranges from lyrical mourning to explosive

anger, rasping pain:

The faint streak of little fish, the dim bottom
rocks heavy with quartz. Our fingers grope,

sift sand, brittle mussel shells. We can drift
close to the place where air, land, water meet,

edge of the creek, and see on the damp margin
The transgressor mother | 157

a squiggled trail, infinite small snail tracks,

no beginning or end, wrinkled, undeciphered,
a message left for us, mysterious words seen
through the huge eye of the creek.
— "Dreaming a Few Minutes
in a Different Element"

The long sweating calls to the twelve-year-

old, saying, Hold on against the pain,
how I knew it from when I left, the blame

inside, the splintered self, saying to him. Walk
out, remind the body you are alive, even if

rain is fi-eezing in the thickets to clatter

like icy seeds, even if you are the only one

plodding through the drifts of grainy snow.

There is no sentimental haze, no delusion that children as well as

mother do not suffer. These are not fluent, mellifluous poems.
They are laden with mud, flint, asphalt, blood, their field of
energy is restless and impatient of resolutions, they traverse

switchbacks between past and present, the mother's childhood,
her children's emerging manhood:

There it is: the indelible mark, sketched

on his belly, tattoo of manhood, swirled line

of hair, soft animal pelt, archaic design,
navel to hidden groin. He squints, reaches

for a shirt, stretches in the tender morning
light high over me. My shock is his belly

like my young body, abdomen swollen pregnant
and luxuriant with hair, a thick line of fur.
158 I
What Is Found There

navel to cunt. A secret message written on me
by him before his birth, faded, yet now surfaced

there with his body's heat, a physical thought,

a remark on my strict ideas about men and women.
—"At Fifteen, the Oldest Son
Comes to Visit"

The poet Pratt most makes me think of or maybe it's — the
other way around since I've been reading Pratt longer — is

Sharon Olds, whose erotic heterosexual poems, like Pratt's les-

bian erotic poems, seem to me to have only recently begun to be
possible and whose poems to her children —not severed from
her by force — are of a comparable passion, the undomesticated
passion of the erotically alive mother.
Muriel Rukeyser once said of her own work, "It isn't that one
brings life together — it's that one will not allow it to be torn

apart." When an undomesticated woman refuses to hide her

sexuality, abnegate her maternity, silence her hungers and angers
in her poetry, she creates — as Rukeyser did, as Audre Lorde has
done, as Pratt and Olds are doing — a force field of extraordinary

In Crime against Nature — as in Rukeyser's work overall

there is unevenness, patches where the struggle to explain sub-
merges the poetry. Sometimes Pratt deliberately breaks into col-
loquial prose, as if in despair with poetry. In part, this need for
explanation derives from the very nature of her undertaking: the
desire, having ruptured a social web, broken a silence, to be
heard, to communicate. But the communication of poetry takes

place beyond frameworks of explanation. I want Pratt to trust
The transgressor mother | 159

the power of her most intense rhythms, her most inspired im-
ages, to "slide stone from the cave's mouth" (her words).

In an important essay, "Identity: Skin Blood Heart,"
Pratt has written about the white southern woman (herself,
Confederate diarist Mary Boykin Chestnut) who has listened to
Black church music "as if using Black people to weep for me."
She says:

Finally I understood that I could feel sorrow during their music,

and yet not confuse their sorrows with mine, nor use their resist-

ance for mine. / needed to do my own work: express my sorrow and
responsibility myself, in my own words, by my own actions. I
could hear their songs as a trumpet to me: a startling, an awaken-

ing, a reminder, a challenge: as were the struggles and resistance
of other folk: but not take them as replacement for my own work.

So, too, on the other side: we've railed, women poets, at the

dead poets' society, the men's bull pen, its extraordinary blinders
and self-centeredness, and we've been right. But, without ac-
cepting the misogyny, the racism, the sentimentalism, the patri-
otic gore, the passive aestheticism, the clique-spirit, I believe the

new women poets can learn to use what they've sieved up from
the old river, combining it anew; it doesn't have to be a dead
hand in the boat, and, certainly, it is no replacement forwomen
poets' own new work. Pratt is a classically schooled poet who
knows Ovid, Cato, Coleridge, Yeats. I want to say to her: Use

everything — use it all.

Like African-American, colonized, and working-class writers,
feminists (who may be any or all of the above) have paid atten-
tion to the processes by which imposed silence, muteness,
speechlessness have broken into language. This is only natural,
since Uteracy and education have not been women's historical
i6o I
What Is Found There

prerogative, even in classes and cultures where they were open
to men. And the privilege of Hteracy and education doesn't
begin to open the doors of taboo against lesbian and feminist
authorship and authority. It's no coincidence that the women's
liberation movement of the 1970s and 1980s generated not only
an astonishing literary renaissance, but presses, periodicals, criti-

cism, a context to nourish it.

Pratt's Crime against Nature, like her first book, was accepted
for publication by a small lesbian-feminist press, Nancy
Bereano's Firebrand Books. It then received the Lamont Prize.
At the award ceremonies in May 1989, under the auspices of the
Academy of American Poets, found myself, as often when I I

used to live in New York during the 1960s and 1970s, at the
Guggenheim Museum waiting for a poetry reading to begin.
But never before had I seen there the convergence of two
worlds: the official poetry establishment and the feminist and
lesbian poetry and publishing community, laced with activist

fhends. Clashes of style there were from the first: the clash be-
tween what Ira Sadoff, in the American Poetry Review, calls "neo-
formalism," on the one hand, and "dynamic, unsettling poetry,"
on the other; between white North American literary culture's

discomfiture with politics, on the one hand, and the sense of
politics and culture as fused in the women's movement or in the
"second culture" or "parallel po//5," as Vaclav Havel identified it

in Communist Eastern Europe, on the other. Reading Havel's
essay"The Power of the Powerless," I was indirectly reminded
of the scene at the Guggenheim that evening: two different
cultural realities in one society where new social forces are at

work. What I observed, in the fidgety-nervous or elaborately
The transgressor mother |

condescending behaviors of the two Chancellors of the Acad-
emy on the stage, faced with an undomesticated woman poet
from the other culture, was the reaction to having a purlieu

invaded, a ritual space violated, the rules of decorum broken.
Establishment good manners began to fray into irritable gestures

(watch-consulting, note-passing during Pratt's reading). Self-
control was running thin. Minnie Bruce Pratt, raised as a polite

southerner, accepted her award graciously, seriously — hardly an
unleashed Fury. Perhaps, by the other culture's etiquette, she
accepted it too seriously, in the sense of affirming the context of
her work: she paid tribute to the women's and gay liberation
movements; she used the word
— "lesbian." The transgressor

mother, the transgressor poet (in that she wrote of this at all) was
evidently an unsettling presence altogether.
I want to say that the Academy of American Poets is not the
enemy, despite hostile twitchings on the stage of the Guggen-
heim that night. The Academy of American Poets hardly pos-
sesses the power of the Czechoslovak Communist party of 1975.
I want to say that the real enemy is Jesse Helms and the lily-
livered legislators, curators, and cohorts of arts foundations who
have marched to his words. I want to say this, but I have to
qualify it. Academy of American Poets, the
Institutions like the

Poetry Society of America, the American Academy and Institute
of Arts and Letters have a heightened responsibility today. They
can be cautious, acquiescent, play it safe in a climate of political
instability and riskiness, throw away what power they have, and
make the work of repression much easier. Or they can become
radicalized — in their vision of what a truly American poetry
might be and is becoming, and in their understanding of the
political meanings of art, and of how to use the resources they
control. As a society in turmoil, we are going to see more — and
more various —attempts to simulate order through repression;
i62 I
What Is Found There

and art is a historical target for such efforts. A distaste for the

poHtical dimensions of art, in this time and place, is a dangerous

Havel writes:

The profound crisis of human identity brought on by living within
a lie, a crisis which in turn makes such a life possible, certainly

possesses a moral dimension as well; it appears, among other
things, as a deep moral crisis in society. A person who has been
seduced by the consumer value system . . . and who has no roots
in the order of being, no sense of responsibility for anything
higher than his or her own personal survival, is a demoralized per-

son. The system depends on this demoralization, deepens it, it is

in fact a projection of it into society.

Elsewhere he names the "secret streamlet [that] trickles on be-
neath the heavy lid of inertia and pseudo-events, slowly and
inconspicuously undercutting it. It may be a long process, but
one day it must happen: the lid will no longer hold and will start

to crack."

These passages were written in 1978 and 1975, respectively.
The Hd, here in capitaHst North America, is a different Hd, con-
structed of a different amalgam of lies, and we are deep in our
own moral crisis, beyond the crisis of civic infrastructure, eco-
nomic rifts, the aHenation of government from the people. That
secret streamlet to which Havel alludes flows here as well, be-

neath the toxic dumps of disinformation, and poets and artists are

far from being the only people who try to keep its channel clear.
But certainly we who make any kind of claims for art that it is a —
way of perceiving and knowing, that it deserves support in

a human needs, that it is more than a
system that supports so few

commodity need to be thinking seriously now about the Hes
within which we are asked to live. That Crime against Nature
The transgressor mother | 163

received a Lamont Prize, that Pratt, Chrystos, and Lorde were
awarded NEA writers' grants are signs of the power not only of
their work, but of the current of resistance running beneath the
inertia and pseudo events that have constituted pubHc Hfe in the
United States for two decades. That the NEA grants in 1990 also

came with a directive that they are not to be used for the making
of art that "in the judgment of the NEA . . . may be considered
obscene, including, but not limited to, homoeroticism," is a

reminder that art is still guilty until proven innocent, in these

United States.
A communal poetr

One day in New York in the late 1980s, had lunch with a poet

I'd known for more than twenty years. Many of his poems

were— —embedded
are in my life. We had read together at the
antiwar events of the Vietnam years. Then, for a long time, we
hardly met. As a friend, he had seemed to me withheld, de-
fended in a certain way I defmed as masculine and with which I

was becoming in general impatient; yet often, in their painful

beauty, his poems told another story. On this day, he was as I had
remembered him: distant, stiff, shy perhaps. The conversation
stumbled along as we talked about our experiences with teach-
ing poetry, which seemed a safe ground. I made some remark
about how long it was since last we'd talked. Suddenly, his

whole manner changed: You disappeared! You simply disappeared. I
A communal poetry |

realized he meant not much from his life as from a landscape

of poetry to which he thought we both belonged and were in
some sense loyal.
If anything, those intervening years had made me feel more
apparent, more visible — to myself and to others — as a poet. The

powerful magnet of the women's liberation movement —and
the women's poetry movement it released —had drawn me to

coffeehouses where women were reading new kinds of poems;
to emerging "journals of liberation" that published women's
poems, often in a context of political articles and the beginnings
of feminist criticism; to bookstores selling chapbooks and
pamphlets from the new women's presses; to a woman poet's

workshops with women in prison; to meetings with other
women poets in Chinese restaurants, coffee shops, apartments,
where we talked not only of poetry, but of the conditions that
make it possible or impossible. It had never occurred to me that I

was disappearing rather, that was, along with other women

poets, beginning to appear. In fact, we were taking part in an

immense shift in human consciousness.

My old friend had, I believe, not much awareness of any of
this. It was, for him, so off-to-the-edge, so out-of-the-way, per-
haps so dangerous, it seemed I had sunk, or dived, into a black
hole. Only later, in a less constrained and happier meeting, were
we able to speak of the different ways we had perceived that
He thought there had been a known, defined poetic landscape
and that as poetic contemporaries we simply shared it. But what-
ever poetic "generation" I belonged to, in the 1950s I was a

mother, under thirty, raising three small children. Notwith-
standing the prize and the fellowship to Europe that my first

book of poems had won me, there was little or no "appearance"
I then felt able to claim as a poet, against that other profound and
as yet unworded reality.
66 What Is Found There

One rainy day in the spring of i960, the San Francisco poet
Robert Duncan arrived at my door, sent to me by our mutual
friend Denise Levertov. I had a sick child at home, and we sat in

the kitchen drinking tea. My son played fretfully in his high
chair, sometimes needing to sit in my lap. Duncan began speak-
ing almost as soon as he entered the house, he never ceased
speaking; the fretful child, my efforts w^ith the tea were in an-

other realm from the one whence he spoke. I Ustened: I had
heard much about him from Denise, had read, with difficulty

and interest, the City Lights "Pocket Poets" edition of his
poems. But I remember only vaguely what he talked about:
poetry, the role of the poet, myth. I knew he was a significant

experimental poet (and I still think his poetry truly serious and
original though occluded in certain ways). It was clear he inhab-
ited a world where poetry and poetry only took precedence, a

world where that was possible. My sharpest memory is of feeling
curiously negated between my sick child, for whom I was, sim-
ply, comfort, and the continuously speaking poet with the
strangely imbalanced eyes, for whom I was, simply, an ear.
Later, driving him back to Boston in the rain, I realized my car
was running on empty. Nervously, I eased it out of rush-hour
traffic into a filling station. Duncan continued to talk, the mono-
logue, perhaps, of a gifted talker, which can be started up, like a

record, when the person doesn't know what to say.

I have thought since then that Duncan's deep attachment to a

mythological Feminine and to his own childhood may have
made it unlikely for him to meet —— in any real sense so unar-

chetypal a person as an struggHng woman poet
actual caring for a
sick child. But also, Duncan was —
then trying to write against

the poHtical and poetic tenor of the times, and through the
medieval-nostalgic filter of his own vision —openly gay poetry.
A communal poetry |

Like Gertrude Stein, I'm sure he needed the veil of language,
and of a highly discursive personaHty, that could at times be
switched off but that also could be used as protection. I too was
using my poetic language as protection in those years, as a
woman, angry, feeling herself evil, other. A conversation be-
tween two such poets was not possible, on that rainy afternoon.

And Duncan was the poet who had recently written, or

was about to write, "Working in words I am an escapist; as if I
could step out of my clothes and move naked as the wind in a
world of words. But I want every part of the actual world in-
volved in my escape," and

For this is the company of the living

and the poet's voice speaks from no
crevice in the ground between
mid-earth and underworld
breathing fiimes of what is deadly to know,

news larvae in tombs
and twists of time do feed upon,

but from the hearth stone, the lamp light,

the heart of the matter where the

house is held

A poet's education. The San Francisco Renaissance of the 1940s
and 1950, with which Duncan was identified, the poetic voices

of the Black and antiwar movements of the 1960s had created a

strong mix of antiestabHshment poetics in the United States. But
the poetry of women's liberation in the 1970s was women's anti-
i68 I
What Is Found There

establishment poetry, challenging not just conventional puritan-
ical mores, but the hip "counterculture" and the male poetry
culture itself. From muses and girlfriends of poets, from arche-
types of the Feminine, women were transforming themselves
into poetic authors. Heterosexual romanticism was being
probed by the sharp, skillful pens of poets like Marge Piercy and,
in Canada, Margaret Atwood. Black women poets were explod-
ing at the intersection of two movements. Lesbian poets were
refusing to encode either their sexuality or their anger. Suddenly
women's poetry was burgeoning everywhere.
Certain poems are etched on this era in my life. I stand in the
City College bookstore, in my hands a yellow chapbook. The
First Cities, Audre Lorde's first collection, published by Diane di

Prima's Poets' Press, and I read:


My sister has my hair my mouth my eyes
and I presume her trustless.

When she was young open to any fever

wearing gold like a veil of fortune on her face
she waited through each rain

a dream of light.

But the sun came up
burning our eyes like crystal

bleaching the sky of promise and

my sister stood
Black unblessed and unbelieving
shivering in the first cold show
of love.

I saw her gold become an arch
where nightmare hunted
A communal poetry |

the porches of her restless nights.

Through echoes of denial
she walks

a bleached side of reason
secret now
my sister never waits
nor mourns the gold
that wandered from her bed.

My sister has my tongue
and all my flesh
and I presume her

as a stone.

I knew that I had found a remarkable new poet and that she
was also a colleague, someone I might actually talk with. Meet-
ing one day on the South Campus of CCNY, we began a con-
versation that was to go on for over twenty years, a conversation

between two people of vastly different temperaments and cul-
tural premises, a conversation often balked and jolted by those
differences yet sustained by our common love for poetry and
respect for each others' work. For most of those twenty-odd
years, during fourteen of which she struggled with cancer, we
exchanged drafts of poems, criticizing and encouraging back and
forth, not always taking each others' advice but listening to it

closely. We also debated, sometimes painfully, the politics we
shared and the experiences we didn't share. The women's libera-
tion movement was a different movement for each of us, but our
common passion for its possibiUties also held us in dialogue.
Lying in bed with 'flu, opening a new journal, Amazon Quar-
terly, to a long poem by a working-class CaHfornia poet then

unknown to me, Judy Grahn:
170 I
What Is Found There



Testimony in trials that never got heard

my lovers teeth are white geese flying above me
my lovers muscles are rope ladders under my hands

we were driving home slow
my lover and I, across the long Bay Bridge,
one February midnight, when midway
over the far left lane, I saw a strange scene:

one small young man standing by the rail,

and in the lane itself, parked straight across
as if it could stop anything, a large young
man upon a stalled motorcycle, perfectly

relaxed as if he'd stopped at a hamburger stand;

he was wearing a peacoat and levis, and
he had his head back, roaring, you
could almost hear the laugh, it

was so real.

"Look at that fool," I said, "in the

middle of the bridge like that," a very

womanly remark.

Then we heard the meaning of the noise
of metal on a concrete bridge at 50

miles an hour, and the far left lane

filled up with a big car that had a

motorcycle jammed on its fi-ont bumper, like
A communal poetry |

the whole thing would explode, the friction

sparks shot up bright orange for many feet

into the air, and the racket still sets

my teeth on edge.

When the car stopped we stopped parallel
and Wendy headed for the callbox while I

ducked across those 6 lanes like a mouse
in the bowUng alley. "Are you hurt?" I said,

the middle-aged driver had the greyest black face,

*'I couldn't stop, I couldn't stop, what happened?"

Then I remembered. "Somebody," I said, "was on
the motorcycle." I ran back,

one block? two blocks? the space for walking
on the bridge is maybe 1 8 inches, whoever
engineered this arrogance, in the dark

stiff wind it seemed I would
be pushed over the rail, would fall down
screaming onto the hard surface of
the bay, but I did not, I found the tall young man
who thought he owned the bridge, now lying on
his stomach, head cradled in his broken arm.

I read on: a narrative poem of two white, working-class lesbians,
driving without a Ucense, afraid to stay and witness, leaving a
Black man to the mercies of the police. I read on:

A Mock Interrogation

Have you ever committed any indecent acts with women?
172 I
What Is Found There

Yes, many. I am guilty of allowing suicidal women to die before

my eyes or in my ears or under my hands because I thought I

could do nothing, I am guilty of leaving a prostitute who held a
knife to my friend's throat to keep us from leaving, because we
would not sleep with her, we thought she was old and fat and
ugly; am guilty of not loving her who needed me; I regret all the

women I have not slept with or comforted, who pulled them-
selves away from me for lack of something I had not the courage

to fight for, for us, our life, our planet, our city, our meat and
potatoes, our love. These are indecent acts, lacking courage, lack-

ing a certain fire behind the eyes, which is the symbol, the raised

fist, the sharing of resources, the resistance that tells death he will
starve for lack of the fat of us, our extra. Yes I have committed
acts of indecency with women and most of them were acts of
omission. I regret them bitterly.

A few weeks later Grahn came to New York, and I went to

hear her read in the Village. Later I wrote: "She read very qui-
etly. I have never heard a poem encompassing so much violence,
grief, anger, compassion, read so quietly. There was absolutely
no false performance."
This was in 1974. Something the poem had unlocked in me
was the audacity of loving women, the audacity of claiming a

stigmatized desire, the audacity to resist the temptations to aban-
don or betray or deny "all of our lovers" — those of whatever
sex, color, class whom we need to make common cause
and who need "A Woman Is Talking to Death" was a

boundary-breaking poem for me: it exploded both desire and
A communal poetry |

And somewhere in those years, riding a commuter train from
Penn Station to New Brunswick, crossing the sulfurous reedy
flats, I recall reading Margaret Atwood's "Circe/Mud" poems,
especially the one beginning

Men with the heads of eagles
no longer interest me
or pig-men, or those who can fly

with the aid of wax and feathers

or those who take off* their clothes

to reveal other clothes

or those with skins of blue leather

or those golden and flat as a coat of arms

or those with claws, the stuffed ones

with glass eyes; or those
hierarchic as greaves and steam-engines.

All these I could create, manufacture,
or find easily: they swoop and thunder
around this island, common as flies,
sparks flashing, bumping into each other,

on hot days you can watch them
as they melt, come apart,

fall into the ocean

like sick gulls, dethronements, plane crashes.

I search instead for the others,

the ones left over,

the ones who have escaped from these
174 I
What Is Found There

mythologies with barely their lives;

they have real faces and hands, they think

of themselves as

wrong somehow, they would rather be trees.

In the tradition of new poetry movements of every geography
and generation, this movement founded little magazines, pub-
lished photo-offset chapbooks, broadsides, new journals like
Aphra, Amazon Quarterly, Azalea, Heresies, Moving Out, The Sec-

ond Wave, Women: A Journal of Liberation; anthologies of past and
contemporary women's poetry began to appear: Amazon Poetry,

No More Masks!, The World Split Open, Mountain Moving Day.
The women-owned presses were starting up: Diana Press in
Baltimore; Shameless Hussy Press, the Oakland Women's Press
Collective, Kelsey Street Press, Effie's Press in the San Francisco
Bay Area; Out &
Out Books in Brooklyn; Motherroot in Pitts-
burgh; the Iowa City Women's Press. The proliferating feminist
bookstores held poetry readings as regular community events. In
1974, at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, there was a
week-long International Women's Poetry Festival with readings
and workshops indoors and out, some planned, others spontane-
ous. And politics were taken for granted as part of our poetic

A partial roster of women poets becoming active in the

United States by the mid-1970s would include Alice Walker,
Alta, Audre Lorde, Cherrie Moraga, Enid Dame, Fay Chiang,
Honor Moore, Irena Klepfisz, Jan Clausen, Joan Gibbs, Joan
Larkin, Judy Grahn, June Jordan, Karen Brodine, Kathleen
Fraser, Kitty Tsui, Linda Hogan, Marge Piercy, Marilyn Hacker,
Minnie Bruce Pratt, Nellie Wong, Pat Parker, Patricia Jones,
Rikki Lights, Robin Morgan, Sara Miles, Sharon Olds, Sonia
Sanchez, Stephanie Byrd, Susan Griffm, Susan Sherman, Teru
A communal poetry |

Kanazawa, Toi Derricotte, Wendy Rose, Willyce Kim. (I drew
these names from my own archive of Htde magazines, antholo-
gies, chapbooks published by women in the 1970s. The list is not
definitive.) Here was a new spiraling out of American poetry, a

new poetic movement.
Just as the women's liberation movement was a new force
released from within the African- American struggle for justice

and the New Left, this women's poetry movement was a neces-

sary unfolding, both firom the earlier poetic revolution and from
the politics of the women's movement. That the origins and
nature of poetry are not just personal but communal was an
important legacy from the poetics that Kenneth Rexroth, Law-
rence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, among others, had brought
to huge audiences in the 1950s and 1960s and from the Black
Arts movement. The women's poetry movement had, thus,

both social and poetic roots, and the fact is that they cannot be
separated. Significantly, it was this movement that began to re-
read and recognize (as in "know again") that great poet of in-
separables, Muriel Rukeyser.

In 1978 four young New York City women poets (African-
American Patricia Jones, Asian-American Fay Chiang, Euro-
American Sara Miles, and Latina Sandra Maria Esteves) edited
and published Ordinary Women: An Anthology of Poetry by New
York City Women. The editors wrote: "This is . . . the first book
of its kind ... a woman's anthology that is not predominantly by
white women, that is not a showcase for well-known writers.
The poems here are by city women in their 20's and 30's, ... of
many races and backgrounds, of diverse styles and aesthetics,
who come together to speak the truth about their own lives."
176 I
What Is Found There

The reality of being women touches all racial and class structures:

our intention was to unite on the basis of womanhood . . . voices

in an urban reality, riding subways, working in factories, restau-
rants, offices, theatres, driving cabs, buying groceries, changing

—Sandra Maria Esteves
I want this book, through the multiracial, multi-ethnic range of
works in it, to have an openness that we are beginning to feel:
Black, white, Asian, Latin women moving through this city, ev-
eryday moving like all other women, tough and mad.
— Patricia Jones

I write poems, songs, otherwise I would be crazy, rationalizing

away the feelings and spirits which embody my identity. ... I hold
it and taste it, but it is given form and shared like a meal with
other, ordinary women living in the city.

—Fay Chiang
This is not a dream, and it's not easy. But the reality of what we're
doing is at once more difficult and more interesting than any
dream. It is day-to-day, ordinary, complicated: the links we make
here are the bonds that women speaking together have always

made, are ambivalent, fragile, hard.

—Sara Miles
As I was a child

hearing timber fall

in forests of anarchy,
faltering spots of
sunshine and injury,

spacing the beat

of time as I wished.
A communal poetry |

chasing lightning bugs,

as I was a child,

magic as

a thin cry

as I lie here,

feet in silver stirrups,

breasts perched on the side
of a precipice,
my cunt favoring
then your kiss,

now arid as Badlands,

torpor of an empress.

my tears are only mine.
—Teru Kanazawa, "Aborting"
and when the center opened
I saw myself
and I saw my mother
the Moon
walking to the white man's factory
so she could catch sunsets

on the 1 8th floor

of the projects
—Sandra Maria Esteves, "Ahora"
a cold place

detention house

not me
i'm glad not me
i said to him
inside not me
i'm glad not me
lyS I
What Is Found There

but you are
said he
you are

—Sandra Maria Esteves, "Visiting"

No backporch in my mind
but there was beauty: sun
Slow setting on episcopal church
i thought it cathedral, a castle

whose tropical tree peeked
from alley from back
Gracing the gray sinfril concrete

block with rehef, recessed
between aging buildings.

Our playcries melted
with fading day
Carhoms, hustlenoise muted
like thin horn players strain

for expression

Strain for expression . . . small store

and efficient. She peered between fronds
of her window jungle, (i would later

wonder: was this like her home?)
calling me, softsmiling, smile worn
for me alone, deep but small lap

soon outgrown, never outgrown,
large bosom and salt and pepper
hair thickbraided, bound toward a knot.

Al/ways warm, comfort-fragrance
humming smoothe lullabies

Ringing cashregister

giving cookies talking silly

girl httle 'n banana brown
A communal poetry |

oh! the sugarcane mangoes
and bunbread oh! the caresshappiness
funnynames: tutums

Deep times. The nono' African throat-

cluck, guidance gently, greatly indulging.

Growing fierce, steelfaced granite

Strong: for the white bill creature

Cheated but never shortchanged
Old women Sundayscreeching in West Indian church

he arose! he arose! he arose!

Defeated but victorious.
—Akua LezU-Hope, "To Every Birth Its Pain"

It was in the women's poetry and publishing movement that

I — and, I many others
think, — began to perceive something
about the language we were writing in. Because many working-
class women were active in the movement, many women of
color (despite ongoing classism and racism there, as everywhere),
the spoken languages and intonations of diverse communities
were finding their way into poems, which were published in

feminist and lesbian newspapers, magazines and anthologies,
heard aloud at group poetry readings, and thus found their way
across Hues that might have separated poets and readers and lis-

teners without the centripetal force of the movement. For the
first time I understood that my poetic language wasn't "En-
gUsh," whatever my inarguable debts to the English poets: it was
American, though I had no full sense of what that might mean
except that my voice belonged here. Later I found, in a letter

from the American Indian writer Leslie Marmon Silko to the
Ohio-born white poet James Wright, her vision of an American
poetic diction:
8o I
What Is Found There

You are fearless of the language America speaks and you love it.

Some I think did not or do not fear it, but they do not love it and
so write an English we seldom hear outside the university; and
then there are many who love it but are afraid it isn't "poetic" or
"literary." . . .

When I say "American" language I mean it in the widest

sense —with the expansiveness of spirit which the great land and
many peoples allow. No need ever to have limited it to so few
sensibilities, so few visions of what there might be in the world.

At the English Institute many of the members seemed so reluctant

to acknowledge that Jamaican poets are using an English language

which at once loves the music of the language so much as it loves

the people and life which speak the language. . . . I . . . would like

to think that we could see language more flexible and inclusive,
that we could begin to look for the passion and the expression
instead of language by rote . . . hideous, empty, artificial language
television speaks. . . . [TJhat is the result of the past 50 years of

working to eradicate regional usages, regional pronunciations,

i.e. regional and community expression fi-om American English,
always with the melting pot theory in mind. To have a "standard-

ized" language, in a land as big and as geographically diverse as

this, certainly seems ridiculous to me.

Ordinary Women was in its own way an embodiment of this

vision. And — despite the now surprising absence of identifiably

lesbian authorship — it also embodied a sense of the voices of a
nonstandardized women's movement that was to emerge more
visibly in the Reagan years, even as a hideous, empty, artificial

rhetoric seemed to push feminism and other dissident move-
ments back to the wall.
The distance
between language
and violence

She's calling from Hartford: another young dark-skinned man has been

killed — shot by police in the head while lying on the ground. Herfriend,
riding the train up from New York, has seen overpass after overpass

spraypainted: "KKK— Kill Niggers. "It's Black History Month.
But this is white history.
White hate crimes, white hate speech. I still try to claim I

wasn't brought up to hate. But hate isn't the half of it. I grew up
in the vast encircling presumption of whiteness — that primary

quality of being which knows itself, its passions, only against an

otherness that has to be dehumanized. I grew up in white silence

that was utterly obsessional. Race was the theme whatever the

In the case of my kin the word sprayed on the overpasses was
i82 I
What Is Found There

unspeakable, part of a taboo vocabulary. That word was the
language of "rednecks." My parents said "colored," "Negro,"
more often "They," even sometimes, in French, "les autres."

Such language could dissociate itself from lynching, from vio-
lence, from such a thing as hatred.

A poet's education. A white child growing into her powers of
language within white discourse. Every day, when she is about
five years old, her father sets her a few lines of poetry to copy
into a ruled notebook as a handwriting lesson:

A thing of beauty is a joy forever;
Its loveliness increases . . .

Tyger, Tyger, burning bright,
In the forests of the night;

What immortal hand or eye,

Could frame thy fearful symmetry?

She receives a written word in her notebook as grade: "Excel-
lent," "Very good," "Good," "Fair," "Poor." The power of
words is enormous; the rhythmic power of verse, rhythm
meshed with language, excites her to imitation. Later, she begins

reading in the books of poetry from which she copied her les-

sons. Blake, especially, she loves. She has no idea whether he, or
Keats, or any of the poets is aHve or dead, or where they wrote
from: poetry, for her, is now and here. The "Songs of Inno-
cence" seem both strange and familiar:

When the voices of children are heard on the green

And laughing is heard on the hill,
Distance between language and violence |

My heart is at rest within my breast
And everything else is still.


My mother bore me in the southern wild.
And I am black, but O! my soul is white;
White as an angel is the English child:

But I am black, as if bereav'd of Ught.

This poem disturbs her faintly, not because it in any way
contradicts the white discourse around her, but because it seems
to approach the perilous, forbidden theme of color, the endless
undertone of that discourse.
She is not brought up to hate; she is brought up within the
circumference of white language and metaphor, a space that
looks and feels to her like freedom. Early on, she experiences
language, especially poetry, as power: an elemental force that is

with her, Uke the wind at her back as she runs across a field.

Only much later she begins to perceive, reluctantly, the rela-
tionships of power sketched in her imagination by the language
she loves and works in. How hard, against others, that wind can

White child growing into her whiteness. Tin shovel flung by my
hand at woman caring
the dark-skinned forme, summer 1933,
soon after my sister's birth, my mother ill and back in the hospi-
tal. A half-effaced, shamed memory of a bleeding cut on her
forehead. I am reprimanded, made to say I'm sorry. I have "a
temper," for which I'm often punished; but this incident re-
mains vivid while others blur. The distance between language
184 I
What Is Found There

and violence has already shortened. Violence becomes a lan-

guage. If I flung words along with the shovel, I can't remember
them. Then, years later, I do remember. Negro! Negro! The po-
lite word becomes epithet, stands in for the evil epithet, the

taboo word, the curse.

A white child's anger at her mother's absence, already trans-
lated (some kind of knowledge makes this possible) into a racial

language. That They are to blame for whatever pain is felt.

This is the child we needed and deserved, my mother writes in a

notebook when I'm three. My parents require a perfectly devel-
oping child, evidence of their intelligence and culture. I'm kept
from school, taught at home till the age of nine. My mother,
once an aspiring pianist and composer who earned her living as a

piano teacher, need not —and must not—work for money after

marriage. Within this bubble of class privilege, the child can be
educated at home, taught to play Mozart on the piano at four
years old. She develops facial tics, eczema in the creases of her
elbows and knees, hay fever. She is prohibited confusion: her
lessons, accomplishments, must follow a clear trajectory. For her
parents she is living proof A Black woman cleans the apartment,
cooks, takes care of the child when the child isn't being "edu-
Mercifully, I had time to imagine, fantasize, play with paper
dolls and china figurines, inventing and resolving their fates. The
best times were times I was ignored, could talk stories under my
breath, loving my improvised world almost as much as I loved
Distance between language and violence |

Popular culture entered my life as Shirley Temple, who was
exactly my age and wrote a letter in the newspapers telling

how her mother fixed spinach for her, with lots of butter.
There were paper-doll books of her and of the Dionne Quin-
tuplets — five identical girls bom to a French-Canadian fam-
ily—and of the famous dollhouse of the actress Colleen
Moore, which contained every luxury conceivable in perfect

miniature, including a tiny phonograph that played Gershwin's
Rhapsody in Blue. I was impressed by Shirley Temple as a Httle

girl my age who had power: she could write a piece for the

newspapers and have it printed in her own handwriting. I must
have seen her dancing with Bill "Bojangles" Robinson in The
Littlest Rebel, but I remember her less as a movie star than as a

presence, like President Roosevelt, or Lindbergh, whose baby
had been stolen; but she was a Httle girl whose face was every-
where —on glass mugs and in coloring books as well as in the


Other figures peopHng my childhood: the faceless, bonneted
woman on the Dutch Cleanser can. Aunt Jemima beaming on
the pancake box, "Rastus" the smiling Black chef on the Cream
of Wheat box, the "Gold Dust Twins" capering black on orange
on soap boxes, also in coloring books given as premiums with
the soap powder. (The white obsession wasn't silent where ad-
vertising logos were concerned.) The Indian chief and the buf-
falo, "vanished" but preserved on the nickel. Characters in
books read aloud: Little Black Sambo, Uncle Remus —with ac-

companying illustrations. Hiawatha. The Ten Little Indians,

soon reduced to none, in the counting-backward rhyme.
i86 I
What Is Found There

In 1939 came the New York World's Fair. Our family, in-

cluding my paternal grandmother, took the train from Baltimore
and stayed two or three nights at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New
York, across the street from Pennsylvania Station. We saw the
Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall, spent a day in Flushing

Meadows at the Fair, with its Trylon and Perisphere of which
we had heard so much. We went to Atlantic City for a day,
chewed its saltwater taffy, were pushed in wicker chairs along
the boardwalk (a favorite tourist ride in Atlantic City in those

days —hard to fathom its appeal to a child). My sister and I had
our portraits sketched in pastel by a boardwalk artist. Under her
picture he wrote, "Dad's Pride," and under mine, "Miss Amer-
ica, 1949"
It was going to be a long way
month war would to 1949. In a

be declared in Europe; soon the Atlantic Ocean would be full of
convoys, submarines, and torpedoes; in Baltimore we would
have blackouts, and air-raid drills at school. I would become part
of the first American "teenage" generation, while people my age
in Europe were, unbeknownst to me, being transported east in

cattle cars, fighting as partisans, living in hiding, sleeping under-
ground in cratered cities. Pearl Harbor would call in the wrath of
the United States.
I was keeping a "Line-A-Day" diary and wrote of the
World's Fair: "The greatest part was the World of Tomorrow.
Men and women of Tomorrow appeared in the sky and sang."
Some early version of big-screen vision and sound must have
been projected on the dome of the Perisphere, celebrating the
World of Tomorrow with its material goods, miracle conve-
niences, freeways, skyways, aerial transport. No World War II,

no Final Solution, no Hiroshima. The men and women of To-
morrow marched with energetic and affirming tread. Whatever
they sang, it wasn't the "Internationale" —more like a hymn to
Distance between language and violence |

American technology and free enterprise. The Depression was
still on, the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia only a few weeks
away. But the World of Tomorrow — capitalist kitsch — inspired

a nine-year-old girl, who, decades later, remembers but one
other moment from the New York World's Fair of 1939: a

glassblower blew, over live fire, a perfect glass pen and nib in

translucent blue-green, and handed it over to her to keep, and
she did keep it, for many years.

Mercifully, at last, I was sent to school, to discover other, real

children, born into other families, other kinds of lives. Not a

wide range, at a private school for white girls. Still, a new hori-
Mercifully, I discovered Modern Screen, Photoplay, Jsick Benny,
"Your Hit Parade," Frank Sinatra, "The Romance of Helen

Trent," "Road of Life." The war was under way; I learned to
swing my hips to "Don't Sit under the Apple Tree," "Deep in
the Heart of Texas," "Mairzy Doats," "Don't Get Around
Much Anymore." loved Water Pidgeon and the singing of the

miners in How Green Was My Valley, Irene Dunne in The White
Cliffs of Dover. I learned to pick out chords for "Smoke Gets in

Your Eyes" and "As Time Goes By" on the keyboard devoted
to Mozart.

A poet's education. Most of the poetry she will read for many
years, when poetry is both sustenance and doorway, is not only
written by white men, but frames an all-white world; its images
and metaphors are not "raceless," but rooted in an apartheid of
I 88 I
What Is Found There

the imagination. In college, for a seminar in modern American
poetry that includes no Black (and almost no women) poets, she
reads one of Allen Tate's "Sonnets at Christmas":

Ah, Christ, I love you rings to the wild sky

And I must think a little of the past:

When I was ten I told a stinking he

That got a black boy whipped; but now at last

The going years, caught in an accurate glow.

Reverse like balls englished upon green baize

Let them return, let the round trumpets blow
The ancient crackle of the Christ's deep gaze.

Deafened and blind, with senses yet unfound,

Am I, untutored to the after- wit
Of knowledge, knowing a nightmare has no sound;
Therefore with idle hands and head I sit

In late December before the fire's daze

Punished by crimes of which I would be quit.

This girl, this student, this poet is only barely learning that
poetry occurs in "periods" and "movements." She is still trying
to read the way she always has: in the here and now, what makes
you shudder with delight or trouble, what keeps you reading,
what's boring? But she's hearing about a southern poetry (she
who grew up in the city of Edgar Allan Poe and Sidney Lanier)
that calls itself Fugitive, Agrarian. Nothing helps her to connect
these literary movements with southern history, with her own
history. Tate's sonnet leaps out at her because it breaks, or seems

to break, a silence — at very least it seems to point to something
under the surface, the unspeakability of which her pulse is track-

ing as it flickers through the poem. She is studying in New
England, now, joking about her southern heritage, there are a

few African-American students (still known as "Negroes") in
Distance between language and violence |

her classes, she knows now that "segregation" (a name for the

laws she grew up under) and "prejudice" (a vaguer notion) are
retrograde; the freshman sister assigned to her by the college is

the daughter of a famous international diplomat, later a Nobel
laureate: a distinguished Negro. She takes her light-skinned, se-

rious "sister" out for lunches and coffee, is supposed to guide her
with sisterly advice. How is she equipped for this, in the pre-
sumption of whiteness? Some years later, she hears that this
young woman, whose unsmiling ivory face and dark, back-
strained hair have become a perplexing memory, is a suicide.

Tate's poem teaches her nothing except the possibility that
race can be a guilty burden on white people, leading them to
Christmas Eve depression, and (more usefully) that a phrase like
"stinking lie" can effectively be inserted in an elegant modem
sonnet. Only years later will she learn that the writer of the
poem, aristocrat of the world of southern letters, was, at the very
least, and as part of his literary politics, a segregationist and sup-
porter of the Ku Klux Klan.
Not how to write
poetry, but wherefore

Masters. For all the poetry I grew up with — the Blake, the Keats,
the Swinburne and the Shelley, the EUzabeth Barrett Browning,
the Whitman, the domesticated versions of Dickinson — in my
twenties a greater ocean fell open before me, with its contradic-
tory currents and undertows. Frost, WyHe, Millay seemed like
shoreline tidal pools: out beyond lay fogs, reefs, wrecks, floating

corpses, kelp forests, sargasso silences, moonlit swells, dolphins,

pelicans, icebergs, suckholes, hunting grounds. Young, hungry,
I was searching, within the limits of time and place and sex, for

words to match and name desire.

Rilke's poem, the antique marble torso of Apollo glinting at

the passerby through its pectorals like eyes, saying: Du musst dein
Lehen dndem, You have to change your life. Finding J. B. Leishman
Not how to write poetry, but wherefore | 191

and Stephen Spender's translations of Rilke in a bookstore in
Harvard Square (at first, thinking this Rainer Maria might be a

woman). Du musst dein Leben dndern. No poem had ever said it

quite so directly. At twenty-tw^o it called me out of a kind of
sleepw^alking. I knew^, even then, that for me poetry w^asn't
enough as something to be appreciated, finely fmgered: it could
be a fierce, destabiHzing force, a vs^ave pulling you further out

than you thought you v^anted to be. You have to change your life.

my first book of poems, published
In his editor's forev^ord to
in 195 1, W. H. Auden praised my "talent for versification" and

"craftsmanship," w^hile explaining to and of my poetic genera-

Radical changes and significant novelty in artistic style can only
occur when there has been a radical change in human sensibility

to require them. The spectacular events of the present time [did

he mean the revelations of the Holocaust? the unleashing of nu-
clear weapons? the dissolution of the old colonial empires?] must
not blind us to the fact that we are living not at the beginning but

in the middle of a historical epoch; they are not novel but repeti-

tions on a vastly enlarged scale and at a violently accelerated

tempo of events which took place long since.

Every poet under fifty-five cherishes, I suspect, a secret grudge

against Providence for not getting him {sic\ bom earlier.

If anything, I cherished a secret grudge against Auden —not
because he didn't proclaim me a genius, but because he pro-
claimed so diminished a scope for poetry, including mine. I had
little use for his beginnings and middles. Yet he was one of the
masters. I had read his much-quoted lines:
192 I
What Is Found There

. . . poetry makes nothing happen; it survives

In the valley of its saying where executives
Would never want to tamper; it flows south

From ranches of isolation and the busy griefs.

Raw towns that we beheve and die in; it survives,

A way of happening, a mouth.

Auden had written that in January 1939, elegizing W. B. Yeats.
He ended it with a charge to living poets (or so I read it; maybe
he was still talking to Yeats):

In the nightmare of the dark

All the dogs of Europe bark.

And the living nations wait.

Each sequestered in its hate;

Intellectual disgrace

Stares from every human face.

And the seas of pity lie

Locked and frozen in each eye.

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night.

With your unconstraining voice

Still persuade us to rejoice.

With the farming of a verse

Make a vineyard of the curse.
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart

Let the healing fountain start.
Not how to write poetry, but wherefore | 193

In the prison of his days

Teach the free man how to praise.

But I was growing up in a postwar world where executives
were increasingly tampering with everything, not least the val-

leys And in that world or in the sector of it I could
of saying. —
perceive around me —
both women and poetry were being redo-

Masters. In my college years T. S. Eliot was the most talked-of
poet. The Cocktail Party played on Broadway at that time; his

name and work were already part of student conversations, al-
luded to in courses. I Hstened to lectures on The Waste Land, the
Four Quartets, earnestly taking notes, trying to grasp the great-
ness. I came to Eliot's poetry with the zeal of a young neophyte
discovering the new and admired.
I came to it also as a young person utterly disaffected from
Christianity and from organized religion in general. My experi-
ence of the suburban Protestant Church was that it had nothing
whatsoever to do with changing one's life. Its images and rituals

were wedded to a world I was trying to escape, the world of pas-
sionless respectability. I wanted nothing more to do with it. But
how could an eighteeen-year-old girl from Baltimore critique the
fact that the greatest modern poet in English (as everyone seemed
to agree) was a High Church Anglican? In my lecture notes, pen-
ciled on the endpapers of the copy of Four Quartets that I still

have, I fmd: "This = problem of a Christian poem in a secular

age — ^you can't accept it unless you accept Christian religion."

The lecturer was F. O. Matthiessen, one of Eliot's earliest inter-

preters, who one year later, in a suicide note, described himself

as a Christian and a socialist. He was also a homosexual.
194 I
What Is Found There

My Jewish father, calling himself a Deist, my Protestant-bom
mother, secular by default (as, perhaps, married to a Christian,
she'd have been Christian, without strong convictions either
way), had sent me to church for several years as a kind of social
validation, mainly as protection against anti-Semitism. I learned
nothing there about spiritual passion or social ethics. If the lit-

urgy found me, it was through the Book of Common Prayer,

mostly the poetry of the King James Bible contained in it. I used
to walk home from church feeHng that I must be at fault: surely,

if I were truly receptive, I would feel "something" when the
wafer was given, the chalice touched to my lips. What I felt was
that I was acting —we were all in a pageant or a play. Nor was
this theater magical. Christianity as thus enacted felt Hke a theo-

logical version of a social world I already knew I had to leave.

Sometimes, having to pull away from a world of coldness, you
end up feeling you yourself are cold. I wrote this disaffection

into an early poem, "Air without Incense."
Christianity aside, there was for me a repulsive quality to

EHot's poetry: an aversion to ordinary Hfe and people. I couldn't
have said that then. I tried for some time to admire the structure,

the learnedness, the cadences of the poems, but the voice overall
sounded dry and sad to me. Eliot was still alive, and I did not
know how much his poetry had been a struggle with self-hatred
and breakdown; nor was I particularly aware that his form of
Christianity, Hke the reUgion I had rejected, was aHgned with a

reactionary politics. He was supposed to be a master, but, as the

young woman I was, seeking possibilities —and responsibili-

ties —of existence in poetry, I felt he was useless for me.

What I lacked was even the idea of a twentieth-century tradi-
tion of radical or revolutionary poetics as a stream into which a
Not how to write poetry, but wherefore | 195

young poet could dip her glass. Among elders, William Carlos
Williams wrote from the landscape of ordinary urban, contem-
porary America, of ordinary poor and working people, and in a

diction of everyday speech, plainspoken yet astonishingly musi-
cal and flexible. But I don't recall being taken out of my skin by
any Williams poem, though later I would work with his phrasing
and ways of breaking a line as a means of shedding formal met-
rics. Muriel Rukeyser, the most truly experimental and integrat-
edly political poet of her time, was unknown to me except by
her name in a list of former Yale Younger Poets. I don't recall
the publication of The Life of Poetry in 1949. No one — professor
or fellow student —ever said to me that this was a book I needed.
And not even the name of Thomas McGrath, the great midwest-
ern working-class poet, was known to me. His chapbooks and
small-press editions were not pubHshed or discussed by critics in

the East; he was himself on the McCarthyite blacklist. Even the
Left and Communist journals had trouble with his poetry, find-
ing it "difficult" and unorthodox. In fact, I was to discover

Rukeyser only in the late 1960s with the poetry readings against

the Vietnam War and, soon after, with the rising women's
movement in which she was, late in her life, a powerful voice. I

did not read McGrath until the 1980s, when his long historical
and autobiographical "Letter to an Imaginary Friend" became
available in its entirety. But, in my early twenties, was my life

ready for Rukeyser and McGrath? Perhaps not. Yet each of
them was asking urgent questions about the place of poetry,
questions I had as yet no language for.

I was exceptionally well grounded in formal technique, and I

loved the craft. What I was groping for was something larger, a

sense of vocation, what it means to live as a poet —not how to
196 I
What Is Found There

write poetry, but wherefore. In my early twenties I took as guide
a poet of extreme division, an insurance executive possessed by
the imagination. But if I was going to have to write myself out of
my own divisions, Wallace Stevens wasn't the worst choice I

could have made.
''Rotted names''

A few years ago, in the early California spring, I put my type-
writer, suitcase, and a copy of Stevens's Collected Poems into the
trunk of my car and drove to the town of Twentynine Palms, at

the edge of the Joshua Tree National Monument. The town
clung along a rough strip, supported largely by a Marine Corps
base, now, I believe, shut down. Off the main route, behind a

bank of pines and oleanders, I found a Httle motel built around a

courtyard with a swimming pool, banksia rose trees, and palm
trees. My room had a kitchenette with a table where I could type
and read. Daytimes I drove and walked in the desert among the
hairy, mad-hermit shapes of the Joshua trees, sat among gray and
gold rocks grizzled with lichen, against whose epochal scale tiny
lives played out their dramas — lizards, wasps, butterflies, bur-
198 I
What Is Found There

rowing bugs, red and gilt flies. I stood at the edge of a lake bed,
waterless for centuries, a vast bowl rimmed by mountains, brim-
ming with silence. The Joshua trees were starting to open their

creamy, almost shocking blooms. It was still cool in the desert
through midday. Late afternoons I went back to the motel and
sat on the patio — usually empty —reading Stevens straight

through, something I had never done before.
I hadn't been writing poems for a while. I had known I was at

the end of a cycle, that were I to write anything it would be a

poetry of the past —my own past — that I was unready to write
what was still strange and unformed in me, the poetry of the
future. It seemed as good a time as any to come to terms with

"I didn't think much of him when I read him in graduate

school," a younger friend of mine, a political activist and pas-
sionate reader of poetry, commented recently. I had started read-

ing Stevens in college, but not really as a student. I read all the
"modern" poets I encountered (later they would be labeled
"modernist") as an apprentice, though a wayward one. I picked
and chose with sublime pigheadedness what I thought could
help me live and write. Never having been a graduate student, I

was never compelled to spend hours and days fettered to the
explication of works that felt deadening or alien to me. It was
another young poet, David Ferry, who told me I should read a

poem called "The Man with the Blue Guitar," and from there I

went on, buying the separate volumes as I found them in sec-

ondhand bookshops.
From the first I was both attracted and repelled by different
Stevens poems, sometimes by different parts of a single poem. I
"Rotted names" | 199

was attracted first by the music, by the intense famiUarity yet
strangeness of Hnes Hke

She sang beyond the genius of the sea


It was her voice that made
The sky acutest at its vanishing.

She measured to the hour its soUtude.

She was the single artificer of the world
In which she sang . . .

Then we,
As we beheld her striding there alone.

Knew that there never was a world for her
Except the one she sang and, singing, made.

The metrics and diction were familiar, that "high" tone at the
intersection of Victorian and modern poetic English. But "The
Idea of Order at offered me something absolutely
Key West"
new: a conception of a woman maker, singing and striding be-
side the ocean, creating her own music, separate from yet be-
stowing its order upon the meaningless plunges of water and the

wind. This image entered me, in the 1950s, an era of feminist
retrenchment and poetic diminishment, as an image of my
tongue-tied desire that a woman's life, a poet's work, should
amount to more than the measured quantities I saw around me.

Now grapes are plush upon the vines.
A soldier walks before my door.

The hives are heavy with the combs.

Before, before, before my door.
200 I
What Is Found There

And seraphs cluster on the domes,
And saints are brilliant in fresh cloaks.

Before, before, before my door.
The shadows lessen on the walls.

The bareness of the house returns.

An acid sunlight fills the halls.

Before, before. Blood smears the oaks.

A soldier stalks before my door.

If I first loved that poem for its sound, I later loved it for its

soundings — its prescience, its concentrated fusion of fulfillment
and disaster, autumn and war and death, the stripping down
from combs full of honey to acid light, the figure of the soldier,

unaccounted for, from the first couplet, so that right away you
feel him there, only walking at first, but stalking by the end past

the blood-smeared oaks. There are many poems of Stevens that

have lasted for me in this way.
And there were others that, from the first, I found —and still

find — irritating and alienating in tone, mere virtuosity carrying
on at great length, like "The Comedian As the Letter C," which

Nota: man is the intelligence of his soil.

The sovereign ghost. As such, the Socrates
Of snails, musician of pears, principium
And lex. Sed quaeritur: is this same wig
Of things, this noncompated pedagogue.
Preceptor to the sea?

I can allow that Stevens —disappointed husband of a beautiful

woman, successful insurance lawyer, fugitive in the imagina-

"Rotted names" |

tion —was shoring up around him a self-protective, intellectual

wit, that his desperation must have needed the excess of virtuos-
ity displayed in many of his poems. But it's a voice of elegance
straining against bleakness, renunciation, and truncation much
of the time, ending suddenly and bitterly: So may the relation of

each man be dipped.

young woman, impatiently skimming the poem, I
Still, as a

found passages that corresponded to my own moments of self-
consciousness, of self-questioning: What was /really doing as a


The book of moonlight is not written yet
Nor half begun, but, when it is, leave room
For Crispin, fagot in the lunar fire,

Who, in the hubbub of his pilgrimage
Through sweating changes, never could forget

That wakefulness or meditating sleep.

In which the sulky strophes willingly

Bore up, in time, the somnolent, deep songs . . .

How many poems he denied himself
In his observant progress, lesser things

Than the relentless contact he desired . . .

Of the modern poets I read in my twenties, Stevens was the
Hberator. Yes: Stevens, whom I found so vexing and perplexing,
so given sometimes to cake-decoration, affectations in French,

yet also capable of shedding any predictable music to write
poems hke "Dry Loaf or "The Dwarf," which force you to
hear music of their own, or The skreak and skritter of evening gone
It was Stevens who told me, in "Of Modern Poetry":

It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.

It has to face the men of the time and to meet
202 I
What Is Found There

The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice.

I took this quite literally. It who said to me, Ourselves in
was he
poetry must take their place, who told me that poetry must change,
our ideas of order, of the romantic, of language itself must

Throw away the lights, the definitions
And say of what you see in the dark

That it is this or it is that,

But do not use the rotted names.

The last line in the Collected Poems is A
new knowledge of reality.
I felt these were messages left along the trail for me. I was
going on pure desire; I had no means of fathoming how life and
work as a woman poet would force me to rethink ideas of order
surrounding me and within me, ideas about scope and destiny,
about the place of poetry in a Hfe still so unrealized, so vaguely

aware, so conventional. I was to carry Stevens with me into

places neither of us could have foreknown, places as dense, im-

placable, and intricate as the desert at Joshua Tree.

In the last days I spent at Twentynine Palms, I thought I was
coming down with 'flu. I ached, felt chilled at night; the desert

wind seemed to my bed. Mornings, I'd stand a long
blow across

time in the hot shower, then make my instant coffee and sit on at
the kitchenette table staring at the pines across the parking lot,

hearing the United States flag whipping in the wind, an arrhyth-
mic, riptide sound. Some days the desert was so dun, so coldly Ht
"Rotted names" | 203

I could hardly bear it. My heart quailed and expanded under
influences I couldn't trace.
One evening I drove to an Italian restaurant on the strip to eat

dinner, thinking to lift my spirits. I had lasagna, fries and salad,

and a glass of ice-cold Chianti in a room otherwise occupied by a
table of very young marines, teenagers, heads half-shaved (close

over ears and necks, slightly longer on top). They had a bottle of
wine, seemed out for a good time, but depressed, ill at ease with
each other. I felt their physical strength — a terribly young, unin-
formed strength —were these kids descendants of European
workers on the land, whose forefathers had been foot soldiers in

war after war? Generations without education or control over
the time and products of their labor?
The young recruits I saw that evening were all apparently
white. At the motel, a weekend earlier, an African-American
officer and his family had been swimming in the pool, later

carried drinks to the patio. Our hosts had seemed to welcome
them, but they were soon gone. Almost everyone I had seen
hiking or rock climbing in the National Monument appeared to
be white except for a Mexican family at one campsite among the

rocks.Beyond the strip lay a kind of desert barrio of vaguely
marked dirt roads leading to earth-colored shacks.
More than ever in my Hfe I had been taking in the multivari-
ous shadings of human life in the American landscape. FeeHng
how long whiteness had kept me from seeing that variety — or,

in some places, noticing its lack —because whiteness— as a mind-
set — is bent only on distinguishing discrete bands of color from
itself That is its obsession — to distinguish, discriminate, catego-

rize, exclude on the basis of clearly defmed color. What else is

the function of being white? The iris of actual Hght, the colors
seen in a desert shower or rainbow, or in the streets of a great
metropolis, speak for continuum, spectrum, inclusion as laws of
204 I
What Is Found There

I have come, through many turnings of life and through many
willing and reluctant mentors, to understand that there is no
study of race —only of racism. It's a bitter, violent, nauseating

study, the study of racism. Race itself is a meaningless category.

But people have defined themselves as w^hite, over and against
darkness, with disastrous results for human community.
And for poetry?

Why, I was asking myself, was that "master" of my youth,
that liberatory spokesman for the imagination, that mentor who
warned Do not use the rotted names, so attracted and compelled by
old, racist configurations? How, given the sweep of his claims
for the imagination, for poetry as that which gives sanction to

life, his claims for modernity, could he accept the stunting of his
own imagination by the repetitions of a mass imaginative failure,

by nineteenth-century concepts of "civilized" and "savage," by
compulsive reiterations of the word "nigger"? Why does the
image and rhyming sound of the offensive word "negress" dom-
inate one poem ("The Virgin Carrying a Lantern") and slide, for

no apparent reason, into "The Auroras of Autumn"? What im-
pelled him to address the haunting poem "Two at Norfolk" to
"darkies" mowing grass in a And why should an ab-
stract "black man," a "woollen massa" be summoned up as in-
terlocutors in the two epigrams "Nudity in the Colonies" and
"Nudity at the Capitol"? What are these "frozen metaphors," as

Aldon Nielsen calls them, doing in his work?
Reading Stevens in other years I had tried to write off that

deliberately racial language as a painful but encapsulated lesion

on the imagination, a momentary collapse of the poet's intelli-

gence. I treated those figures —not that far removed from Rastus
and Aunt Jemima — as happenstance, accidental. There in the

"Rotted names" | 205

high desert I finally understood: This is a key to the whole. Don't
try to extirpate, censor, or defend it. Stevens's reliance on one-di-
mensional and abstract images of African- Americans is a water-
mark in his poetry. To understand how he places himself in
relation to these and other dark-skinned figments of his mind
often Latin American and Caribbean lay figures — is to under-
stand more clearly the meanings of North and South in Stevens's
poetry, the riven self, the emotionally unhappy white man with
a "fairly substantial income," the fugitive in the imagination

who is repeatedly turned back by a wall of mirrors, whose im-
mense poetic gift is thus compelled to frustrate itself It's to grasp

the deforming power of racism — or what Toni Morrison has
named "Africanism" —over the imagination —not only of this

poet, but of the collective poetry of which he was a part, the

poetry in which I, as a young woman, had been trying to take
my place.
A poet's education

Diane Glancy: "The poet writes as [s]he is written by circum-
stance and environment." And "I . . . feel I must make use of
myself as a found object." Glancy: a woman of the Plains, of
Cherokee and poor white "Arkansas backhill culture." Driving
hundreds of miles to teach poetry in the public schools of Arkan-
sas and Oklahoma, she keeps a kind ofjournal, a series of medita-
tions on place, poetry, literacy, oral tradition, words, religion.

She has written one of the new sourcebooks brought forth in
this country today by poets for whose parents or grandparents
literacy or English was not a given. It's a lie that poetry is only
read by or "speaks to" people in the universities or elite intellec-

tual circles; in many such places, poetry barely speaks at all.

A poet's education | 207

Poems are written and absorbed, silently and aloud, in prisons,

prairie kitchens, urban basement workshops, branch libraries,

battered women's shelters, homeless shelters, offices, a public

hospital for disabled people, an HIV support group. A poet can
be bom in a house with empty bookshelves. Sooner or later, s/he

will need books. But books are not genes.

A poet's education.

Before I was eighteen, I was arrested on suspicion of murder after

refusing to explain a deep cut on my forearm. With shocking
speed I found myself handcuffed to a chain gang . . . and bussed to
a holding facihty to await trial. There I met men, prisoners, who
read aloud to each other the works of Neruda, Paz, Sabines,
Nemerov, and Hemingway. Never had I felt such freedom as in

that dormitory. . . . While I listened to the words of the poets, the
alligators slumbered powerless in their lairs. Their language was
the magic that could liberate me from myself. . . .

And when they closed the books, these Chicanos, and went
into their own Chicano language, they made barrio life come

alive for me in the fullness of its vitality. I began to learn my own

language, the bilingual words and phrases explaining to me my
own place in the universe. . . .

Two years passed. I was twenty now, and behind bars again. . .

One night on my third month in the county jail . . . [sjome detec-
tives had kneed an old drunk and handcuffed him to the booking
bars. His shrill screams raked my nerves like hacksaw on bone,
the desperate protest of his dignity against their inhumanity. . . .

When they went to the bathroom to pee and the desk attendant

walked to the file cabinet to pull the arrest record, I shot my arm
208 I
What Is Found There

through the bars, grabbed one of the attendant's university text-
books, and tucked it in my overalls. It was the only way I had of

It was late when I returned to my cell. Under my blanket I

switched on a pen flashlight and opened the thick book at ran-

dom, scanning the pages. . . . Slowly I enunciated the words . . .

p-o-n-d, ri-pple. It scared me that I had been reduced to this to

find comfort. I always had thought reading a waste of time, that
nothing could be gained by it. Only by action, by moving out into
the world and confi-onting and challenging the obstacles, could

one learn anything worth knowing.
Even as I tried to convince myself that I was merely curious, I

became so absorbed in how the sounds created music in me, and
happiness, I forgot where I was. . . . For a while, a deep sadness
overcame me, as if I had chanced on a long-lost fiiend and
mourned the years of separation. But soon the heartache of hav-

ing missed so much of Ufe, that had numbed me since I was a

child, gave way, as if a grave illness had lifted itself firom me and I

was cured, innocently beheving in the beauty of life again. I stum-
blingly repeated the author's name as I fell asleep, saying it over
and over in the dark: Words-worth,
Words- worth. . . .

Days later, with a stub pencil I whittled sharp with my teeth, I
propped a Red Chief notebook on my knees and wrote my first
words. From that moment, a hunger for poetry possessed me.

Jimmy Santiago Baca writes of poetry as a birth into the self

out of a disarticulated, violently unworded condition, the

Chicano taught to despise his own speech, the male prisoner in a

world . . . run by men's rules and maintained by men's anger and

brutish will to survive, forced to bury his feminine heart save in the
act of opening a letter or in writing poems. Every poem is an infant
A poet's education | 209

labored into birth and I am drenched with sweating effort. Tiredfrom the

pain and hurt of being a man, in the poem I transform myself into

woman. Released from the anguish of speechlessness {There was
nothing so humiliating as being unable to express myself, and my inar-

ticulateness increased my sense ofjeopardy, of being endangered) , Baca
transforms himself into a woman who has transcended the pain
and hurt of being female, who has actually given birth to words,
not to a living, crying, shitting child. But how balance the hard
labor of bearing a poem against the early depletion of unedu-
cated women bearing children year after year? Or against the
effort for speech by a woman whose culture has determined that

women shall be silent?

En boca cerrada no entran moscas. "Flies don't enter a closed mouth"
is a saying I kept hearing when I was a child. Ser hahladora was to

be a gossip and a liar, to talk too much. Muchachitas hien criadas,

well-bred girls don't answer back. Es una f alia de respeto to talk

back to one's mother or father. . . . Hocicona, repelona, chismosa,

having a big mouth, questioning, carrying tales are all signs of
being mal my culture they are all words that are deroga-
criada. In

tory if applied to women —
I've never heard them applied to men.

Gloria Anzaldua, disentangUng the heavy hanging strands
fringing the cave of mestiza consciousness, fmds speechlessness
compounded by femaleness, and both by the fact of being alien,

"queer," not a woman in her culture's eyes. Her sense of iden-
tity is more comphcated than Baca's because she's forced to
transform many layers of negativity surrounding femaleness it-

self—images of Malintzin, the Indian woman as betrayer, of la

chingada, the Indian woman as the fucked-one, of la Llorona,

eternally mourning, long-suffering mother —and to confront the

"despot duality" of simplistic masculine/ feminine: /, like other
210 I
What Is Found There

queer people, am two in one body, both male and female. I am the

embodiment of the hierosgamos: the coming together of opposite qualities


A poet's education.

In the 1960s, I read my first Chicane novel. It was City of Night by
John Rechy, a gay Texan, son of a Scottish father and a Mexican
mother. For days I walked around in stunned amazement that a
Chicano could write and get published. When I read I Am Joaquin
I was surprised to see a bilingual book by a Chicano in print.

When I saw poetry written in Tex-Mex for the first time, a feel-

ing of pure joy flashed through me. . . .

Even before I read books by Chicanos or Mexicans, it was the
Mexican movies I saw at the drive-in —the Thursday night special

of $1.00 a car — that gave me a sense of belonging. Vamonos a las

vistas, my mother would call out and we'd all — grandmother,
brothers, sister and cousins —squeeze into the car. We'd wolf
down cheese and bologna white bread sandwiches while watch-
ing Pedro Infante in melodramatic tear-jerkers like Nosotros los

pohres, the first "real" Mexican movie (that was not an imitation
of European movies). ... I remember the singing type "west-

ems" ofJorge Negrete and Miguel Aceves Mejia. . . .

The whole time I was growing up, there was norteno music,

sometimes called North Mexican border music, or Tex Mex
music, or Chicano music, or cantina (bar) music. I grew up listen-

ing to conjuntos, three- or four-piece bands made up of folk musi-
cians playing guitar, bajo sexto, drums and button accordion,
which Chicanos had borrowed fi-om the German immigrants who
had come to Central Texas and Mexico to farm and build brewer-
A poet's education | 211

I remember the hot, sultry evenings when corridos — songs of
love and death on the Texas-Mexican borderlands —reverberated
out of cheap amplifiers from the local cantinas and wafted in
through my bedroom window.
Corridos first became widely used along the South Texas/Mexi-
can border during the early conflict between Chicanos and An-
glos. The corridos are usually about Mexican heroes who do val-

iant deeds against the Anglo oppressors. Pancho Villa's song *'La

cucaracha," is the most famous one. Corridos of John F. Kennedy
and his death are still very popular in the Valley. Older Chicanos
remember Lydia Mendoza, one of the great border corrido singers

who was called la Gloria de Tejas. Her "El tango negro," sung
during the Great Depression, made her a singer of the people.
The everpresent corridos narrated one hundred years of border

history, bringing news of events as well as entertainment. These

folk musicians and folk songs are our chief cultural mythmakers,
and they made our hard Hves seem bearable.

A poet's education.

After the divorce, I had new territory, much like the Oklahoma
land run when a piece of land was claimed & had to be settled. I

had spent years hiding behind my husband, the children & house-
work. Now the land & sky were open. That's what's fiightening

about the prairie at first \ its barrenness & lack of shelter. I had
always written, but now my sense of place was defined by what-
ever mattered. I picked up my Indian heritage & began a journey
toward ani-yun-wiyu, translated from the Cherokee, *real peo-

I read journals \ magazines. Poetry \ some fiction. I saw that

feelings could be expressed in writing. FeeUngs of be wilderment
212 I

& fear. Especially anger. It was a trend in women's writing \ the

pulley I needed out of the separation & isolation I felt without the
surroundings of family. I saw women come to grips with them-
selves. The vulnerability, the struggle, the agonizing choices. I

had to find a homestead within myself, or invent one. I dug a

potato cellar.

Family had covered the fissures in my hfe. Now I had fi'ag-

ments \ shards \ whatever the territory offered. My poems &
writing were the land I cultivated. I moved toward 'being' in

poetry. A struggle for survival. My purpose was to find the truth

of what I was \ my voice. What I had to offer. I could not have

done it without the other voices \ the sun & rain & soil for myself
as a person. The pleasure of being a woman.
I found that I weathered the prairie storms & the limitations

that come with the territory. I found acceptance of myself \ the
strength to travel prairie roads & talk about poetry in towns
where farmers in the cafes stare. I relived the struggle to claim the

land \ estabUsh a sod house \
plow the fields \ milk the cow. The
rest will come. All this is an internal land, of course. I started late

v^dth only a map given to me by other women who said the terri-

tory was there. It was a fertile landscape just inside the head. I had
only to load the wagon, hitch the horses. A journey which my
mother never made before she folded up her camp.
I learned to trust images. I could even experiment with words.
Put muffler, glass packs on the wagon. Mud flaps if I wanted. I

have what men have had \ liberty to be myself Maybe women
had it too & I just never knew. Wrong \ wright \ whatever. Now
I could throw out the ice cubes \ find my severed limbs \ sew
them on instead of giving heart & arms & lungs away. I have use
for them on the edge of the frontier \ saw-edge after saw-edge.

The glory of the plain self in search of words to say, 'the self /

the delight of it. The birth \ the shedding of invisibility. The pur-
suit of she-pleasure. SHEDONISM.
A poet's education | 213

The themes \ form \ experimental forms. Words as house &
shed & outbuildings on the land. The urgency. The cessation of

pounding myself \ hanging my separate parts to dry on low
branches & rocks. It'swomen who influenced my work. Their
courage \ their trend toward revelation. I am on the journey to
the ani-yun-wiyu.
To invent
what we desire

What does a poet need to know?

—That poetry can occur, not just as a
fierce, precarious charge in the imagina-
tion, or an almost physical wave of de- Not everyone who feels

this charge, this desire,
sire, but as something written down,
feels licensed to write.
that remains, so regardless of circum-
stance you can turn back to that fierce

charge, that desire.

—That you yourself, through recombi-
nations and permutations of the lan- Not everyone who is a

guages you already know, can re-create poet feels her or his
To invent what we desire

that fierce charge, for yourself and oth- own languages are good
ers, on a page, something written down
that remains.

—That this in itself can be a means of "Poetry is not a luxury"
(Audre Lorde). Poetry is

saving your life. activity and survival.

—That this in itself can be an activity of
keenest joy.

—That no culture, language, caste can

claim superiority; across enormous so- Wherever, w^henever, you
hve, this belongs to you.
cial, national, geographic tracts, poetry

lifts its head and looks you in the eye.

—That in all ages and cultures, poets
have been lost before they could be
found and encouraged — ^lost in child-

you need
The poems
birth, lost to grinding toil, in massacres, we know are merely frag-

pogroms, genocides, lost to hatred of the ments.

messages they bore, that could not be

—That to mis- take, to mis-prize, your
own life and its landscapes, to imagine
that poetry belongs by right to others (of

another culture, gender, class, century)
and not to you, means falling — if not
We must use what we
into silence — into language others found have to invent what we
in struggle with their own conditions. desire.

Then you become a mouthpiece for the

lives of others, you inhabit their

rhythms, their vocabularies, you lose
2i6 I
What Is Found There

track of your own desire in an adopted

—That the poetries of men and women
unHke you are a great polyglot city of
We cannot work in isola-
resources, in whose streets you need to
tion, or in fear of other
wander, whose sounds you need to lis- voices.

ten to, without feeling you must live


—That your own desire, in
to track

your own language, is not an isolated
task. You yourself are marked by family,
gender, caste, landscape, the struggle to Finding "the intimate

make a living, or the absence of such a face of universal struggle"

(June Jordan).
struggle. The rich and the poor are
equally marked. Poetry is never free of
these markings even when it appears to
be. Look into the images.
Format and form

Long before the invention of the "sound byte," the anarchist
poet, essayist, and activist Paul Goodman described the effects of
what he called "format" on pubHc language:

Format. — n. i . the shape and size of a book as determined by the
number of times the original sheet has been folded to form the

leaves. 2. the general physical appearance of a book, magazine, or
newspaper, such as the type face, binding, quality of paper, mar-
gins, etc. 3. the organization, plan, style, or type of something:

They tailored their script to a half-hour format. The format of the show
allowed for topical and controversial gags. 4. Computer Technol, the
organization of disposition of symbols on a magnetic tape, punch
2 I 8 I
What Is Found There

card, or the like, in accordance with the input requirement of a

computer, card-sort machine, etc. . , .

Format has no literary power, and finally it destroys Uterary

power. It is especially disastrous to the common standard style,

because it co-opts it and takes the heart out of it.

I wish that Goodman had said "poetic power" instead of "liter-

ary power"; I think of poetic power as abroad in the world in
many kinds of speech and writing, while "literary power" sug-
gests to me the text on the page merely. But in recognizing the

power of format Goodman also recognized one of the terrible
powers of the powerful in advanced capitalism. Here he is again:

Format is not like censorship that tries to obliterate speech, and so
sometimes empowers it by making it important. And it is not like
propaganda that simply tells lies. Rather, authority imposes for-

mat on speech because it needs speech, but not autonomous
speech. Format is speech colonized, broken-spirited. . . . The
government of a compHcated modem society cannot lie much. But
by format, even without trying, it can kill feeling, memory, learn-

ing, observation, imagination, logic, grammar, or any other fac-

ulty of free writing.

Poetic forms — meters, rhyming patterns, the shaping of
poems into symmetrical blocks of lines called couplets or stan-

zas —have existed since poetry was an oral activity. Such forms
can easily become format, of course, where the dynamics of
experience and desire are forced to fit a pattern to which they
have no organic relationship. People are often taught in school
to confuse closed poetic forms (or formulas) with poetry itself,

the lifeblood of the poem. Or, that a poem consists merely in a

series of sentences broken (formatted) into short lines called

"free verse." But a closed form like the sestina, the sonnet, the

Format and form |

villanelle remains inert formula or format unless the "triggering
subject," as Richard Hugo called it, acts on the imagination to

make the form evolve, become responsive, or vv^orks almost in
resistance to the form. It's a struggle not to let the form take

over, lapse into format, assimilate the poetry; and that very strug-
gle can produce a movement, a music, of its own.
I think of Gerard Manley Hopkins's "sprung" sonnets, his

wrestling not just with diction and grammar, end rhymes and
meters, but with his own rebellious heart:

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.

Comforter, where, where is your comforting:
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?

My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief

Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked 'No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small

Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,

Wretch, under a comfort served in a whirlwind: all

Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

And I think of the Jamaican poet Claude McKay, writing, in

more traditional meter and diction, of the 19 19 "Red Summer"
of Black urban uprisings across the United States:

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and permed in an inglorious spot.

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs.
220 I
What Is Found There

Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave.

And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack.

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

McKay's lines hearken back to Shakespeare — not, however,
to the sonnets, but to the battle speech from Henry Fand with a

difference: McKay takes the traditional poetic form of the colo-
nizer and turns it into a rebellion cry, takes the poetics of war and

turns it into a poetics of resistance.
More than sixty years later, St. Lucian poet Derek Walcott
bursts the sonnet while keeping (and adding to) its resonance,
breaks it open to his own purposes, a Caribbean poet's con-
frontation with the contradictions of his middle-class Anglo-
Europeanized education, the barbarisms of that civilization as

revealed in the slave trade and the Holocaust:

The camps hold their distance —brown chestnuts and gray smoke
that coils like barbed wire. The profit in guilt continues.

Brown pigeons goose-step, squirrels pile up acorns like little shoes,

and moss, voiceless as smoke, hushes the peeled bodies
like abandoned kindling. In the clear pools, fat

trout rising to lures bubble in umlauts.

Forty years gone, in my island childhood, I felt that
the gift of poetry had made me one of the chosen.
Format and form |

that all experience was kindling to the fire of the Muse.
Now I see her in autumn on that pine bench where she sits,

their nut-brown ideal, in gold plaits and lederhosen,

the blood drops of poppies embroidered on her white bodice,
the spirit of autumn to every Hans and Fritz

whose gaze raked the stubble fields when the smoky cries

of rooks were nearly human. They placed their cause in
her comsilk crown, her cornflower iris,

winnower of chaff for whom the swastikas flash

in skeletal harvests. But had I known then
that the fi-onds of my island were harrows, its sand the ash
of the distant camps, would I have broken my pen
because this century's pastorals were being written
by the chimneys of Dachau, of Auschwitz, of Sachsenhausen?

In the early 1940s, even as the child Walcott was feeling "the
fire of the Muse" on his island, the young woman Muriel
Rukeyser was writing her own contradictions as an American
Jew into a long sequence exploring war, womanhood, and poli-

tics: "Letter to the Front." The first draft of one section was
written in the open, long-lined form of most of the other sec-
tions of "Letter to the Front." It reads like a working through of
the poet's ideas — loose and sometimes explanatory (And in

America, we Jews are hostages/in a nation of hostages; we vouch for

freedom /if we are free,
all may be free). The final version is crystal-

Hzed into fourteen lines, a sonnet that is a kind of prophesying:

To be a Jew in the twentieth century

Is to be offered a gift. If you refiise,

Wishing to be invisible, you choose
Death of the spirit, the stone insanity.

Accepting, take full life. Full agonies:
222 I
What Is Found There

Your evening deep in labyrinthine blood
Of those who resist, fail, and resist; and God
Reduced to a hostage among hostages.

The gift is torment. Not alone the still

Torture, isolation; or torture of the flesh.

That may come also. But the accepting wish,
The whole and fertile spirit as guarantee
For every human freedom, suffering to be free,

Daring to live for the impossible.

June Jordan has an essay called "The Difficult Miracle of Black
Poetry in America: Something Like a Sonnet for PhiUis Wheat-
ley." (This is the single most cogent, eloquent, compressed piece
of writing about the conditions of North American poetry that I

know.) Poetic, not pedantic, it talks about the African cultural
world Wheatley lost at the age of seven, and the Western literary
tradition to which she was introduced via the auction block, as

an African child bought in the whim of pity by a liberal Boston
couple on a shopping trip for slaves and early recognized as a

precocious, a "special" child.
Jordan talks about a vocabulary and imagery of the poet's
situation ("It was written, this white man's Uterature of England,
while someone else did the things that have to be done.") What
happens when this is the only poetic language available to a
slave? Phillis Wheatley was forcibly turned —and then, in frus-

trate desire, turned herself- —to a formulaic language and poetics
in which she acquitted herself so well that she is now known as

the first African- American poet. Even in so doing, Jordan shows,

she kept alive the subversive pulse in her work.
Jordan then writes a sonnet for Wheatley, a sonnet in ringing
Format and form |

and relentless dactylic meter, a sonnet impeccably end-rhymed,
that says of Wheadey all she could not have said with hope for


Giri from the realm of birds florid and fleet

flying full feather in far or near weather
Who fell to a dollar lust coffled like meat
Captured by avarice and hate spit together

Trembling asthmatic alone on the slave block

built by a savagery travelling by carriage
viewed Uke a species of flaw in the livestock

A child without safety of mother or marriage

Chosen by whimsy but bom to surprise

They taught you to read but you learned how to write

Begging the universe into your eyes:
They dressed you in light but you dreamed with the night.

From Africa singing ofjustice and grace,

Your early verse sweetens the fame of our Race.

Francisco X. Alarcon writes his poHtical love sonnets (DeAmor
Oscuro/Of Dark Love) to a young farm worker, using fourteen
hnes without end-rhymes though with the inherent internal
rhyming of Spanish, impossible to capture in English translation:


tus manos son dos martillos que your hands are two hammers that
clavan joyfiiUy

y desclavan alegres la manana, nail down and pry up the morning,

tiemos punos desdoblados de tender fists that unfold from
tierra, earth,

dulces pencas de platanos pequenos sweet bunches of small bananas
2 24 What Is Found There

tus manos huelen a las your hands smell of the
zarzatnoras blackberries

que cosechas en los campos que you harvest in the fields that

roban steal

tu sudor a dos dolares el bote, your sweat at two dollars a bucket,

son duras, tibias, jovenes y sabias they are hard, warm, young and


azadones que traen pan a las mesas, hoes that bring bread to the tables,

oscuras piedras que al chocar dan dark stones that give light when
luz, struck,

gozo, sosten, ancla del mundo pleasure, support, anchor of the

entero world

yo las venero como relicarios I worship them as reliquaries

porque como gaviotas anidadas, because like nesting sea gulls,

me consuelan, me alagran, me they console, delight, defend me


icomo consolar al hombre mas solo how to console the loneliest man
de la tierra? como aliviar su pena? on earth? how to relieve his pain?

^como llamar a su puerta how to call through his bolted

atrancada door

y decirle al oido embocado de and have one's soul speak to his

alma: ear:

"hermano, la guerra ya ha "brother, the war is now
terminado: over:

todos, por fin, salimos all of us in the end emerged
vencedores: victors:

sal, goza los campos go forth and enjoy the liberated

liberados: fields:

la explotacion es cosa del pasado"? exploitation is a thing of the past"?
Format and form 225

^que hacer cuando regrese what to do when he returns,

malherido wounded
con alambre de puas entre las with barbed wire between his
piemas? legs?

^como encarar sus ojos que how to face his eyes accusing:


"hermano, el mundo sigue "brother, the world goes on the

igual: same:

los pobres todavia somos presa we the poor are still easy prey:

facil: love,

el amor, si no es de todos, no if it isn't from all, is just not

basta"? enough"?

Here, too, the "high" European form is turned to the purposes
of a new poetry: "dark" in the sense of hidden, forbidden, ho-
mosexual; "dark" in the sense of the love between dark people.
In all of these examples, variations on form may be greater or
lesser, but what really matters is not line lengths or the way meter
is handled, but the poet's voice and concerns refusing to be
circumscribed or colonized by the tradition, the tradition being
just a point of takeoff. In each case the poet refuses to let form
become format, pushes at it, stretches the web, rejects imposed
materials, claims a personal space and time and voice. Format
remains flat, rigid, its concerns not language, but quantifiable
organization, containment, preordained limits: control.

Goodman writes:

The deliberate response to format is avatit garde —writing which
devotes itself, at least in part, to flouting the standard style, to
226 I
What Is Found There

offending the audience. . . . If a work is felt to be "experimental,"

it is not that the writer is doing something new but that he [sic] is

making an effort to be different, to be not traditional.

In any period, powerful artists are likely to go way out and
become incomprehensible. They abide by the artistic imperative

to make it as clear as possible, but they are not deterred by the fact

that the audience doesn't catch on. . . . On hindsight, the incom-

prehensibility of genius almost always turns out to be in the main-

stream of tradition, because the artist took the current style for

granted, he [sic] worked on the boundary of what he knew, and
he did something just more than he knew.
Avant garde artists do not take the current style for granted; it

disgusts them. They do not care about the present audience; they

want to upset it. . . . Avant garde tends to be capricious, impatient,
fragmentary, ill-tempered. Yet, except by raging and denying, a

writer might not be able to stay alive at all as a writer. As a style,

avant garde is an hypothesis that something is very wrong in soci-

ety. . . .

An ultimate step is always Dada, the use of art to deny the
existence of meaning. A step after the last is to puff up examples

of format itself to giant size, Pop.
But in a confused society, avant garde does not flourish very
well. What is done in order to be idiotic can easily be co-opted as

the idiotic standard.

"Avant-garde" may well be a declararion that "something is

very wrong in society." It may be a true "Howl" against a perva-

sively square, exclusive, dominant art allied with sexual, eco-
nomic, racial repression. Goodman saw well, in an age of
But, as

disinformation and co-optation, "avant-garde" may become
merely one dish on a buffet table of "entertainment" so arranged
that no one item can dominate. It may be drafted into the service

of TV commercials, or videos for executives on retreat. Its at-
Format and form |

tempts to shatter structures of meaning may very well be com-
plicit with a system that depends on our viewing our lives as

random and meaningless or, at best, unserious.

"Avant-garde," anyway, is a style and movement that de-

pends on the existence of a powerful, if dessicated, and en-
trenched art world, where grants are awarded, paintings selected
for museum purchase, reputations polished. What is its signifi-

cance in a society of immigrants and survivors of genocide, the
meeting place of many colonized cultures, whose emerging art-

ists, far from being disgusted with their peoples' traditions and
styles, are trying to repossess and revalue them? "Avant-garde"
has historically meant the rebellions of new groups of younger
white men (and a few women) against the complacencies and
sterilities of older men of their own culture. It was a powerful
energy in Western Europe, the United States, and, for a while,

in Russia, at the turn of this century. But among poets, at least,

many or most of the early twentieth-century avant-garde, the
"great modernists," were privileged by gender and class and
were defenders of privilege.
The poetry of emerging groups —women, people of color,

working-class radicals, lesbians and gay men—poetry that is

nonassimilationist, difficult to co-opt, draws on many formal
sources (ballad, blues, corrido, reggae, sonnet, chant, cuentos,
sestina, sermon, calypso, for a few). But it doesn't pretend to
abandon meaning or what Goodman calls "the artistic impera-
tive to make it as clear as possible." As possible. Those poetries
can be highly complex, layered with tones and allusions, but
they are also concerned with making it "as clear as possible"

because too much already has been buried, mystified, or written
of necessity in code.
Tourism and
promised lands

Tourism. Can be a trap for poets, especially poets of North
America who may elect to be escapist, breezy, about our empire,
the sands we are lying on.
Poems decorated with brilliantly colored flowers, fronds,
views from the cabana or through louvered shutters, dark sil-

houettes gutting fish, bearing mounds of fruit on their heads.

White poetry of the islands: no clue that there are poets, born
and living there, who are building literary movements, who are

part of an anticolonial resistance. The people of the fabulous
realm: abstract figures on a simplified ground.
The exotic — that way of viewing a landscape, people, a cul-
ture as escape from our carefully constructed selves, our "real"
lives — a trap for poets.
Tourism and promised lands |

In my twenties, soon after World War II, I viewed Western
Europe like that. The dollar was high, and college students from
the United States could travel and study abroad with a sense of
being on cultural holiday. Coming from our unscorched earth,

our unblasted cities, we sought not the European present,
traumatized and hectically rebuilding, but the European past of
our schoolbooks. Being mostly white, we saw European culture
as the ancestor of ours: we romanticized that ancestry, half in
awe at its artifacts, half convinced of our own national superior-

ity. In essence, Europe's glorious past had been saved from bar-
barism by us and for us: a huge outdoor museum.
Many of the poems in my second book were poems of such
tourism. It was a difficult, conflicted time in my own life, from
which I gladly fled into poems about English or Italian landscape
and architecture. Only once, in a poem called "The Tourist and
the Town," I tried to place myself as I was, alongside an ac-
knowledgment that life in the foreign town was as "ordinary" as

anywhere else.

Poems of tourism: like travel snapshots taken compulsively, a
means of capturing, collecting, framing the ruins, the exotic

street, the sacred rocks, the half-naked vending child, the
woman setting forth under her colorful burden. A means of
deflecting the meanings of the place, the meaning of the
tourist's presence, in a world economy in which tourism has
become a major industry for poor countries and in which a
different kind of travel —immigration in search of work — is

the only option facing a majority of the inhabitants of those

June Jordan turns this genre inside out in a poem called "Soli-
darity." She balances the spoken word "terrorist" against the
230 I
What Is Found There

unspoken word "tourist." But the tourists here are four women
of color visiting Paris:

Even then
in the attenuated hght
of the Church of le Sacre Coeur
(early evening and folk songs
on the mausoleum steps)

and armed
only with 2 instamatic cameras
(not a terrorist among us)

even there
in that Parisian downpour

Black women (2 of Asian 2
of African descent)
could not catch a taxi
I wondered what umbrella
would be big enough to stop

the shivering

of our collective impotence
against such negligent


And I wondered
who would build that shelter
who will build and lift it
high and wide
such loneliness
Tourism and promised lands 231

Poems of the artists' colony: poems about grass being cut a

long way off, poetry of vacation rather than vocation, poems
written on retreat, like poems written at court, treating the court

as the world.
This is not to deplore the existence of artists' colonies, but

rather the way they exist in a society where the general maldistri-
bution of opportunity (basic needs) extends to the opportunity
(basic need) to make art. Most of the people who end up at

artists' colonies, given this maldistribution, are relatively well

educated, have had at least the privilege of thinking that they
might create art. Imagine a society in which strong arts programs
were integral elements of a free pubUc education. Imagine a

society in which, upon leaving school, any worker was ehgible,
as part of her or his worker's benefits, to attend free arts work-
shops, classes, retreats, both near the workplace and at weekend
or summer camps. The values embodied in existing public pol-

icy are oppositional to any such vision. One result is that art

produced in an exceptional, rarefied situation like an artists' col-

ony for the few can become rarefied, self-reflecting, complicit

with the circumstances of its making, cut off from a larger,

richer, and more disturbing life.

Who is to dictate what may be written about and how? Isn't

that what everybody fears — the prescriptive, the demand that we
write out of certain materials, avoid others?
No one is to dictate. But if many, many poems written and
published in this country are shallow, bland, fluent without in-
tensity, timorous, and docile in their undertakings, must we as-
232 I
What Is Found There

sume that it's only natural? Isn't there something that points a

finger in the direction of blandness, of fluency, something that
rewards those qualities?
What is it that allows many poets in the United States, their
critics and readers, to accept the view of poetry as a luxury
(Audre Lorde's term) rather than a food for all, food for the heart
and senses, food of memory and hope? Why do poets ever fawn
or clown or archly undercut their work when reading before
audiences, as if embarrassed by their own claims to be heard, by
poetry's function as witness? Why do some adopt a self-con-

scious snake-oil shamanism, as if the electrical thread from
human being through poem to other human beings weren't
enough? Why are Uterary journals full of poems that sound as if

written by committee in a department of comparative literature,
or by people still rehearsing Ezra Pound's long-ago groan I cannot
make it cohere — a groan that, after so many repetitions, becomes a

whine? Why do so many poems full of liberal or radical hope and
outrage fail to lift off the ground, for which "politics" is blamed
rather than a failure of poetic nerve? Why have poets in the
United States (I include myself) so often accepted that so little

was being asked of us? asked so little of each other and ourselves?
The reviewer of a recent anthology of Los Angeles poets

This book is not a response to public life, although it does share
the despair and helplessness of the 1990's, which the riots have
helped crystallize. No: The burning here originates in the per-

sonal isolation into which these poets have plunged themselves,
who appear to choose loneliness and self-pity as guides through

their individual pain. . . . [Sjuch wounds result not in any explo-
sion, but in uneasy confessions. . . . Predictably, some poems do
little more than photograph frustration and numbness. A poetry
Tourism and promised lands | 233

of stunned realizations, of therapy, it speaks of art as mere self-

disclosure: We tell about our troubles, and we feel better.

Isn't there something that points a finger in the direction of
mere self-disclosure, telling our troubles, as an end in itself?

From television talk shows to the earnest confessions of political
candidates, isn't there a shunting off of any collective vitality and
movement that might rise from all these disclosures? We feel
better, then worse again, we go back to the therapeutic group,
the people who understand us, we do not trouble the waters
with a language that exceeds the prescribed common vocabu-
lary, we try to "communicate," to "dialogue," to "share," to

"heal" in the holding patterns of capitalistic self-help —we pull

further and further away from poetry.
The reviewer goes on to criticize the nervelessness of form
that accompanies this attitude toward the materials: a "lackadai-

sical" craft. But even a highly crafted poem may evoke little

more than a life of resigned interiority.

Interiority was the material for Emily Dickinson, yet she
turned her lens both on her personal moment and on eternity.
She had to make herself like that, embracing her own authority
and linguistic strangeness, or she'd have joined the ranks of sad,
fluent female singers of her North American century. She
wanted more for poetry than that. More for herself

In a time of great and mostly terrible uprootings, no "prom-
ised land" is a land for poetry. For Poetry the Immigrant, sur-
rounded by her hastily crammed bags and baskets, there is no
fmal haven. In its mixture of the ancient and the unthought-of,
the well-loved and the unthinkable, its strange tension between
234 I
What Is Found There

conservation and radical excavation, poetry is continually torn
between its roots, the bones of the ancestors, and its bent beyond
the found, tov^^ard the future.
Raya Dunayevskaya wrote of revolution that while "great

divides in epochs, in cognition, in personality, are crucial," we
need to understand the moment of discontinuity — the break in
the pattern — itself as part of a continuity, for it to become a

turning point in human history.

Poetry wrenches around our ideas about our Hves as it grows
alongside other kinds of human endeavor. But it also recalls us to

ourselves — to memory, association, forgotten or forbidden lan-

Poetry will not fly across the sea, against the storms, to any
"new world," any "promised land," and then fold its wings and
sing. Poetry is not a resting on the given, but a questing toward
what might otherwise be. It will always pick a quarrel with the
found place, the refuge, the sanctuary, the revolution that is

momentum. Even though the poet, human being with
many anxious fears, might want just to rest, accHmate, adjust,
become naturalized, learn to write in a new landscape, a new
language. Poetry will go on harassing the poet until, and unless,

it is driven away.
What if

When there is no history

there is no metaphor;
a bhnd nation in storm

mauls its own harbors
sperm whale, Indian, black,
belted in these ruins.
—Michael S. Harper, "Song: I Want a Witness"

The economy of the nation, the empire of business
within the republic, both include in their basic
premise the concept of perpetual warfare. It is the
history of the idea of war that is beneath our other
histories. . . . But around and under and above it is

another reality; Hke desert-water kept from the surface
and the seed, like the old desert-answer needing its

channels, the blessings of much work before it arrives

to act and make flower. This history is the history of

—Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of Poetry

We must constantly encourage ourselves and each
other to attempt the heretical actions that our dreams
imply, and so many of our old ideas disparage. In the
236 I
What Is Found There

forefront of our move toward change, there is only
poetry to hint at possibiHty made real.
—Audre Lorde, "Poetry Is Not a Luxury"

To be revolutionary is to be original, to know where
we came from, to validate what is ours and help it to
flourish, the best of what is ours, of our beginnings,
our principles, and to leave behind what no longer
serves us.

— Ines Hernandez, "An Open Letter
to Chicanas ..."

Labor Day weekend, iggz. 167,000 jobs lost in the United States in
the month of August. An electoral campaign is being waged
between twentieth-century politicians, while the twenty-first
century starts pushing the hood back from her face and turning
to show herself: an eyebrow, a cheekbone, the Hne of a mouth
out of shadow.

The country's uniqueness no longer resides in its prosperity.
Among the civilized [sic] nations of the world it exists in the

extraordinarily difficult relations between the races and certain
ethnic groups, in the extent and range of the nation's impover-

ished classes, in the manifestly archaic quality of its criminal jus-

tice system, in the inadequacy of its public health and medical
facilities for tens of millions of uninsured, in the burned-out and

deserted slum areas of dozens of cities where public safety is un-
known, in the bizarre conditions that exist in too many of the
nation's elementary and secondary schools, that some pretend
wall be quickly remedied by something called "privatization."
. . . [T]he prison population of this country is greater than that of

any other civilized democracy in the world [T]he US criminal
law system is a disgrace, recognized to be that by jurists and law-
What if? I

yers throughout the world. That situation did not suddenly arise

because of a jury decision in Los Angeles [sic] in 1992.

1992 is the five-hundredth year of the white "civilizing" pres-
ence in the Americas. There are commemorative stamps, schol-
arly conferences, reenactments, homages to the invaders, repHcas

of Columbus's ships, official theatrics. An enormous grass-roots

countermovement has risen in resistance to these official celebra-

tions. It uses demonstrations, murals, theater, poetry readings,
history, storytelling, banners, postcards, music, and dance; it

publishes collections of essays and poems; it speaks to whomever
will listen, but the primary voices are those of the political, artis-

tic, and intellectual movements of American Indians, Meso-
americans, mestizos and mestizas, Chicana/os, Mexicana/os,
Puerto Riquenos, Puerto Riqueiias, movements building since
the 1960s, through all the years when the Left was being pro-
nounced defunct. This indigenous peoples' response to the
Quincentennial is an educational movement, a movement for
cultural self-definition and for the future. And it's a movement

of peoples who, despite wars of extermination, enslavements,
the theft of their lands, children, and cultures, have never ceased
to recognize poetry as a form of power.

The Mexican poet Octavio Paz reads the history of poetry in
the modern age as "nothing but the history of its relations to
[the] myth" of Revolution —
revolution thingified with that
capital R that usually marks an icon to be shot down. The Revo-

lution of absolute, monolithic State power is dead now, he says,
with the "deaths" of Communism and socialism in Eastern

Europe and the Soviet Union. The statues of Lenin have indeed
been pulled down (and, as one unreconstructed Marxist said to
238 I
What Is Found There

me recently, even Lenin would have been glad of that); the press
has reported former dissident writers as saying they no longer
know what to write about. Paz beHeves that the long association

of poetry with revolution (and now I am using the small r that

allows for many revolutions, parallel and converging, and for

continuing revolution) is at an end. He calls on poetry as the
"Other Voice" that speaks of what neither the capitalism now
called "market economy" nor the state capitaHsm known as
Communism can address. (Paz does acknowledge that the ques-
tions asked by Marx are still unanswered, that the "market econ-
omy" cannot answer them, must itself undergo change or self-

destruct.) He also states that "for the first time since the
Romantic era, no poetic movement of major scope has appeared
in thirty years," thus betraying a banal ignorance of the women's
and indigenous and mestiza/o poetry movements in all the
Americas, the Caribbean, the Pacific Islands, New Zealand,
Australia, not to mention Europe and Africa. This ignorance,

though banal, is a profound disadvantage for someone trying to

pronounce on the present and future relationship of poetry and

Poetry and revolution: poems and changes of consciousness,
poems and actions. Invisible, unquantifiable exchanges of en-
ergy. On a wall, in an exhibit of paintings ("New World Fur-
rows") by Michele Gibbs, I read two lines from the Irish poet
Seamus Heaney:

What looks the strongest has outlived its term;

The future lies with what's affirmed from under.
Wh a t if? I

In Heaney's original poem, these lines are italicized: they ap-
pear as the slogan of a revolutionary hope in which his genera-
tion has been disappointed. The poem recognizes a new genera-
tion rejecting the passivity of disillusionment and ends with a
different hope:

to know there is one among us who never swerved
from all his instincts told him was right action . . .

whose boat will lift when the cloudburst happens.

Heaney's poem belongs, in its images, to Ireland and the long,
tortuous path of Irish revolutionary politics. It also voices a more
general, passive desire for change, easily resigned to what is: the
hberal's dead end. The couplet from Heaney's text is, however,
transformed in radical juxtaposition with Gibbs's paintings. The
iambic pentameter of Shakespeare or Milton or Yeats is here
broken up into short phrases, inscribed in blood-red ink, and
these Irish words hang in an African-Caribbean system of im-
ages — specifically a painting entitled Homecomingfor Mandela and
one called Phoenix Rising, the latter an African woman reborn
out of a shell or bowl of flames. And they stand along with words
from Henry Dumas, Margaret Walker, Aime Cesaire. Whatever
irony Heaney means us to hear in these lines is de-ironized,
returned to a hving principle, in Gibbs's visual meditations on
history: it's more than hope or faith; it is a caUing-into-being.
As poetry, in that context of words and images, the lines are

transmuted. Perhaps they spur me on, by and through the light
and shadows of the painting, to move more surely in my contests
with the old, dying powers within and outside myself
Perhaps they have been scribbled into the notebook of a stu-
dent who may or may not ever read the whole poem but who
will always associate them with those images. Judging from the
240 I
What Is Found There

whole of the poem, I don't think Heaney would feel misappro-

As I've been writing this book, poems and the words of poets
have flowed into my hands, onto my table. As often, the work of
searching becomes a magnetic field toward which, Hke iron fil-

ings, needed resources fly. At the worst time in this continent's

history, when indeed the old, dying forces seem to have pitched
us into an irreversible, irremediable disaster spin — air, water,
earth, and fire horribly contaminated, the blood pulse in the
embryo already marked for sickness, sewage of public verbiage
choking the inlets of the mind — an abundance of revolutionary
art is still emerging.

Here is soot Today it is all I have
to give you My stores of honey and com
and fresh water and even sand are empty
Here With this you can hold the city's

every comer under your fingernails
ground into the soles of your shoes riding
the pulses of your lungs' fragile chambers

traveling from your eye's edge to the back
of your hand Here is soot signature

of the city of fire and its web
of consequences It has spread its burned
body over the river filmed the slick

dark heads of the cormorants as they plunge
to eat It has settled between pavements
and the clothes of those who sleep on them
It testifies to the lost integrity
What if? I

of forests of the earth's buried black veins

of tenements of poison sealed in drums
against flesh circles of pointed tents

of the bodies of those who would not obey
or who slept on park benches unheeding
It is memory smearing the sunsets

to attract our shattered attention each mote
a crippled survivor voiceless haunting

our eyes and throats trying to find a way in
—Suzanne Gardinier,
"To the City of Fire"

A revolutionary poem will not tell you who or when to kill,

what and when to bum, or even how to theorize. It reminds you
(for you have known, somehow, all along, maybe lost track)

where and when and how you are Hving and might Hve — it is a

wick of desire. It may do its work in the language and images of
dreams, lists, love letters, prison letters, chants, filmic jump cuts,

meditations, cries of pain, documentary fragments, blues, late-
night long-distance calls. It is not programmatic: it searches for

words amid the jamming of unfree, free-market idiom, for im-
ages that will bum true outside the emotional theme parks. A
revolutionary poem is written out of one individual's confronta-
tion with her/his own longings (including all that s/he is ex-

pected to deny) in the belief that its readers or hearers (in that
old, unending sense of the people) deserve an art as complex, as

open to contradictions as themselves.

Any truly revolutionary art is an alchemy through which
waste, greed, brutality, frozen indifference, "bUnd sorrow," and
anger are transmuted into some drenching recognition of the
What —
if? the possible. What if-
— ? — the first revolutionary
242 I
What Is Found There

question, the question the dying forces don't know how to ask.

The theme of revolutionary art may of necessity be prevailing
conditions, yet the art signals other ways and means. In depicting
lives ordinarily downpressed, shredded, erased, this art reveals

through fierce attention their innate and latent vitality and
beauty. In portraying alienated and exploited labor with delicate,
steady concern for the faces and bodies of the laborers, it calls to

mind that work is a human blessing, that alienation does not

have to be its inseparable companion. In figuring the hunted,
whether Indians or slaves or migrants or women, it calls up a

landscape where all might be free to travel unmolested. In the

ferocious composition of a work by Sue Coe, in the haunting
meditative strokes of Michele Gibbs's work on pressed fig-tree
bark, in the organic historical vision of a canvas by Jacob Law-
rence, there is —thanks to beauty of form and color, anarchic
precision of forms and spaces — a conjuring of a possible space
where human relationships become as complementary and
unenforced as the Hnes, colors, forms of the pictures themselves.
Revolutionary art dwells, by its nature, on edges.

This is its power: the tension between subject and means,
between the is and what can be. Edges between ruin and cele-
bration.Naming and mourning damage, keeping pain vocal so it
cannot become normalized and acceptable. Yet, through that
burning gauze in a poem which flickers over words and images,
through the energy of desire, summoning a different reality.
Kamau Brathwaite on the assassination of Walter Rodney,
Guyanese scholar, activist, and leader:

to be blown into fragments, your flesh

like the islands that you loved
like the seawall that you wished to heal
What if? I

bringing equal rights & justice to the brothers
a feariess cumfa mashramani to the sisters whispering their free/zon

that grandee nanny's histories be listened to with all their ancient

fleches of respect

until they are the steps up the poor of the church
up from the floor of the hill/ slide

until they become the roar of the nation

that fathers would at last settle into what they own
axe adze if not oil well, torch

light of mackenzie

that those who have all these generations

bitten us bare to the bone
gnawing our knuckles to their stone

price fix price rise rachman & rat/chet squeeze
how bread is hard to buy how rice is scarcer than the

muddy water where it rides

how bonny baby bellies grow doom-laden dungeon grounded down
to groaning in their hunger
grow wailer voiced & red eyed in their anger . . .

to be blown into fragments, your death
like the islands that you loved
like the seawall that you wished to heal
244 I
What Is Found There

bringing equal rights & justice to the bredren
that children above all others would be like the sun.

over the rupununi over the hazy morne de Castries over kilimanjaro

any where or word where there is love there is the sky & its blue free
where past means present struggle

towards vlissengens where it may some day end

distant like powis on the essequibo
drifting like miracles or dream
or like that lonely fishing engine slowly losing us its sound

but real like your wrist with its tick of blood around its man
acles of bone
but real like the long marches the court steps of tryall

the sudden sodden night journeys up the the pomeroon
holed up in a different safe house every morning & try
ing to guess from the heat of the hand

shake if the stranger was stranger or cobra or fiiend

& the urgent steel of the kis

kadee glittering its qqurl down the steepest bend in the breeze

& the leaves

ticking & learning to live with the smell of rum on the skull's

breath, his cigarette ash on the smudge of your fingers

his footsteps into your houses
What if? I

& having to say it over & over & over again
with your soft ringing patience with your black
lash of wit. though the edges must have been curling with pain

but the certainty clearer & clearer & clearer again

that it is too simple to hit/too hurt

not to remember

that it must not become an easy slogan or target

too torn too defaced too devalued down in redemption market

that when men gather govern other manner

they should be honest in a world of hornets

that bleed into their heads like lice

corruption that cockroaches like a dirty kitchen sink

that politics should be like understanding of the floor
boards of your house

swept clean each morning, built by hands that know
the wind & tide & language

from the loops within the ridges of the koker
to the rusty tinnin fences of your yard

so that each man on his cramped restless island

on backdam of his land in forest clearing by the broeken river

where berbice struggles against slushy ground

takes up his bed & walks
246 I
What Is Found There

in the power & the reggae of his soul/stice
from the crippled brambled pathways of his vision
to the certain limpen knowledge of his nam

this is the message that the dreadren will deliver

groundation of the soul with drift of mustard seed

that when he spoke the world was fluter on his breeze

since it was natural to him like the water, like the way he listened

like the way he walked, one a dem ital brothers who had grace

for being all these things & carefiil of it too

& careless of it too

he was cut down plantation cane

because he dared to grow & growing/ green
because he was that slender reed & there were machetes sharp
to hasten him to bleed, he was blown down

because his bridge from man to men
meant doom to prisons of a world we never made
meant wracking out the weeds that kill our yampe vine

& so the bomb
fragmenting islands like the land you loved
letting back darkness in
What if? 247

but there are stars that bum that murders do not know
soft diamonds behind the blown to bits

that trackers could not find that bombers could not see

that scavengers will never hide away

the Caribbean bleeds near georgetown prison

a widow rushes out & hauls her children firee

But the imagining of a different reality requires telling and
retelling the terrible true story: a poetry that narrates and wit-
nesses. Muskogee Creek Joy Harjo implants this in her title and
in the gloss she provides for her poem:



Beneath a sky blurred with mist and wind,
I am amazed as I watch the violet
heads of crocuses erupt firom the stiff earth

after dying for a season,
as I have watched my own dark head
appear each morning after entering
the next world

to come back to this one,

248 I
What Is Found There

It is the way in the natural world to understand the place

the ghost dancers named
after the heart/breaking destruction.

Anna Mae,
everything and nothing


You are the shimmering young woman
who found her voice,
when you were warned to be silent, or have your body cut away
from you like an elegant weed.
You are the one whose spirit is present in the dappled stars.

(They prance and lope Uke colored horses who stay with us
through the streets of these steely cities. And I have seen them

nuzzling the frozen bodies of tattered drunks
on the comer.)
This morning when the last star is dimming
and the buses grind toward
the middle of the city, I know it is ten years since they buried you
the second time in Lakota, a language that could

free you.

I heard about it in Oklahoma, or New Mexico,
how the wind howled and pulled everything down
in a righteous anger.

(It was the women who told me) and we understood wordlessly
the ripe meaning of your murder.
As I understand ten years later after the slow changing
of the seasons
that we have just begun to touch

the dazzling whirlwind of our anger,

we have just begun to perceive the amazed world the ghost dancers
crazily, beautifully.
What if? I

In February 1976, an unidentified body of a young woman was found on the
Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. The official autopsy attributed
death to exposure. The FBI agent present at the autopsy ordered her hands
severed and sent to Washington for fingerprinting. John Truedell rightly
called this mutilation an act of war. Her unnamed body was buried. When
Anna Mae Aquash, a young Micmac woman who was an active American
Indian Movement member, was discovered missing by her fiiends and
relatives, a second autopsy was demanded. It was then discovered she had
been killed by a bullet fired at close range to the back of her head. Her killer

or killers have yet to be identified.

What is represented as intolerable — as crushing —becomes
the figure of its own transformation, through the beauty of the
medium and through the artist's uncompromised love for that

medium, a love as deep as the love of freedom. These loves are
not in opposition.

In another place, not here, a woman might touch
something between beauty and nowhere, back there
and here, might pass hand over hand her own
trembling life, but I have tried to imagine a sea not
bleeding, a girl's glance fiiU as a verse, a woman
growing old and never crying to a radio hissing of a
black boy's murder. I have tried to keep my throat
gurgling like a bird's. I have listened to the hard
gossip of race that inhabits this road. Even in this I

have tried to hum mud and feathers and sit peacefiiUy

in this foliage of bones and rain. I have chewed a few
votive leaves here, their taste already disenchanting

my mothers. I have tried to write this thing calmly

even as its lines burn to a close. I have come to know
something simple. Each sentence realised or
dreamed jumps like a pulse with history and takes a

side. What I say in any language is told in faultless
250 I
What Is Found There

knowledge of skin, in drunkenness and weeping,
told as a woman without matches and tinder, not in

words and in words and in words learned by heart,

told in secret and not in secret, and listen, does not
bum out or waste and is plenty and pitiless and loves.
—Dionne Brand, No Language Is Neutral

Forms, colors, sensuous relationships, rhythms, textures,

tones, transmutations of energy, all belong to the natural world.
Before humans arrived, their power was there; they were name-
less yet not powerless. To touch their power, humans had to
name them: whorl, branch, rift, stipple, crust, cone, striation,
froth, sponge, flake, fringe, gully, rut, tuft, grain, bunch, slime,
scale, spine, streak, globe. Over so many millennia, so many
cultures, humans have reached into preexisting nature and made
art: to celebrate, to drive off evil, to nourish memory, to conjure

the desired visitation.
The revolutionary artist, the relayer of possibility, draws on
such powers, in opposition to a technocratic society's hatred of
multiformity, hatred of the natural world, hatred of the body,
hatred of darkness and women, hatred of disobedience. The
revolutionary poet loves people, rivers, other creatures, stones,
trees inseparably from art, is not ashamed of any of these loves,
and for them conjures a language that is pubHc, intimate, invit-
ing, terrifying, and beloved.

I. Woman and bird
Page 6: "moving from each to each and through our hves." Muriel Rukey-
ser (191 3-1979) is the North American poet who most intuited, ex-

plored, and, in her work, embodied this triangulation.

Page 7; "instructed her to write." Beth Brant, Mohawk Trail (Ithaca, N.Y.:
Firebrand, 1985), p. 96.

II. Voices from the air
Page 9; " 'Who am I?' it asked. . .
." John Webster, Tragedies (London:
Vision Press, 1946), p. 149.
Page 10: "The house was quiet . . .
." Wallace Stevens, The Collected Poems
of Wallace Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1954), p. 358.

III. "What would we create?"
Page 14: "it's like being sick . . .
." Karen Brodine, "June 78," in Illegal

Assembly (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Hanging Loose Press, 1980), p. 58.

Page i4." "I imagine this message . . .
." Aime Cesaire, "On the State of the
Union," in Aime Cesaire: Collected Poetry, trans, and ed. Clayton Eshle-
man and Annette Smith (Berkeley: University of California Press,

1983), pp. 342-43-
Page 13: "Yet this is still my country . . .
." W. S. Merwin, "Caesar," in his

Selected Poems (New York: Atheneum, 1988), p. 121.
Page ig: "the military cadets were reading his poems." Nazim Hikmet,
2 5 2 I

Selected Poetry, trans. Randy Biasing and Mudu Konuk (New York:
Persea, 1986), p. 8.

Page ig: "dangerous state criminals." See my On Lies, Secrets, and Silence:
Selected Prose igdd-igyS (New York: Norton, 1979), pp. 116-119, and
Irina Ratushinskaya, Beyond the Limit: Poems, trans. Frances Padorr
Brent and Carol J. Avins (Evanston, 111.: Northwestern University
Press, 1987), p. xiii.

Page ig: "pursued for five years by the INS." See Margaret Randall, Com-
ing Home: Peace without Complacency (Albuquerque: West End Press,

1990), for a detailed history of the INS case against Randall.

Page ig: "set apart from the practical arts, from civic meaning." The inclu-
sion of a poet, Maya Angelou, in the 1993 presidential inauguration was
a symbolic gesture (augmented by the fact that Angelou is also African-

American and a woman). But a captive symbol, like ritual, becomes a

true resource only if it can connect with a larger consciousness in every-
day life.

IV. Dearest Arturo
Page 23: "bottom of every new villainy." Eli Evans, The Provincials: A
Personal History ofJews in the South (New York: Athenaeum, 1976), p.
Page 24: "scheming within a group: as, office politics." Webster's New
World Dictionary of the American Language (Cleveland and New York:
World, 1964).
Page 26: "with envy and admiration." Arturo Islas, "On the Bridge, at the
Border: Migrants and Immigrants," Fifth Annual Ernesto Galarza
Commemorative Lecture, Stanford Center for Chicano Research
(Stanford: Stanford University, 1990), p. 3.

Page 26: " 'identify' with them." Ibid., p. 5.

V. "Those two shelves, down there"
Page 2g: "The lack of the means to distribute . . .
." Nadine Gordimer is

referring to a specific South African context: "the fact that there are

virtually no bookshops whatever and very, very few and very, very
poor libraries in black townships. The tax on books is high . . . and one
of the great problems of local publishers is the fact that there is a mo-
nopoly of distribution . . . that hasn't any interest in quaUty literature,

which means that Louis Lamour . . . [is] available while 'commercial'
Notes I

consideration censorship operates against other, quality work." (Per-
sonal communication to Stephen CHngman, April 2, 1993) In the
United States, similar conditions obtain in impoverished inner-city
areas, while in consumption-driven suburban malls chain bookstores
market commodities called books but do not provide accessibility to


Page ji: "patterns of distribution and availability." See Stan Luxenberg,
Books in Chains: Chain Bookstores and Marketplace Censorship. (1991; Na-
tional Writers Union, 13 Astor Place, New York, NY 10003). You
might also ask why books on community organizing, poor people's
empowerment, and strategies for grass-roots movements are not found
out front among (or instead of) guides to personal self-improvement.

VII. The space for poetry
." For photographs of
the inscriptions on the fence below Neruda's house, see Luis Poirot,

ed., Pablo Neruda: Absence and Presence (New York: Norton, 1990),

pp. 64-75.
Page 37: "McCarran- Walter Act." The McCarran- Walter Immigration
and Nationality Act was passed in 1952 by a McCarthyite Congress
over President Truman's veto. It listed thirty-three provisions for ex-
clusion or expulsion of aliens from the United States, including polyg-
amy, mental illness, homosexuality, membership in communist, social-
ist or anarchist organizations or association with members of such
groups, and writing, speaking, or disseminating opinions that dissent
from official government views. Some 50,000 people have been denied
visas to enter the United States under this act. See Margaret Randall,
Coming Home: Peace without Complacency (Albuquerque: West End
Press, 1990).

Page 37: "And Rip forgot the office hours . . .
." Hart Crane, The Poems of
Hart Crane, ed. Marc Simon (New York and London: Liveright, 1986),

PP- 55-56.
Page 39: "profit, marketing, consumerism." Poetry Flash, published in the
Bay Area, is a monthly tabloid-style calendar of poetry readings and
related events chiefly taking place on the West Coast but national in
scope; it also offers vivid and eclectic reviews and articles on poetry and
poetics. In the January 1993 issue, Richard Silberg, reviewing Dana
Gioia's Can Poetry Matter?, refutes the notion of the poetry reading as a
2 5 4 I

campus phenomenon, pointing to the increase in nonacademic read-
ings across the country: festivals, open readings, poetry slams (competi-
tions in which poets read before judges), and readings in bars and cof-
feehouses. He rightly calls the Bay Area "an endemic poetry festival."

Like grass-roots politics, grass-roots poetry tends to be ignored by the
communications media of corporate interests —hence, the value of a
paper Hke Poetry Flash (P.O. Box 4172, Berkeley, CA 94704).

Page 42: "translating, typesetting, or ghostwriting." For a concrete, de-
tailed account of one such hfe, see Hayden Carruth, "Fragments of
Autobiography," in his Suicides andjazzers (Ann Arbor: University of
Michigan Press, 1993), pp. 70-75.

IX. The muralist
Page 43: ''\ wish you would write a poem . . .
." Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
The Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, ed. E. L. Griggs, 6 vols. (New
York: Oxford University Press, 1956), I, p. 527.

Page 4j: "These were things which I myself saw . . .
." Peter Kropotkin,
Memoirs of a Revolutionist (New York: Doubleday/ Anchor, 1962), p. 47.
Page 44: "The struggle for revolutionary ideas . . .
." Leon Trotsky, Art and
Revolution, ed. Paul V. Siegel (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1992),

pp. 23-24.
Page 43: "From the point of view of an objective historical process . . .

Ibid., p. 30.

Page 43: "The effort to set art free . . .
." Ibid., p. 39.

Page 45: "One cannot approach art . . .
." Ibid.,
pp. 76-77.
Page 46: "It is one thing to understand something . . .
." Ibid., p. 66.

Page 47: "During a war the poets turn to war . . .
." Thomas McGrath,
Selected Poems 1938-1988 (Port Townsend, Wash.: Copper Canyon
Press, 1988), p. 105.

Page 48: "unlocking hate and fear." Miranda Bergman, letter, 1991.
Page 30: "in organic poetry the form sense . . .
." Denise Levertov, "Some
Notes on Organic Form," in The Poet in the World (New York: New
Directions, 1973), p. 12.
Page 30: "We work alone . . .
." Samella Lewis, The Art of Elizabeth Catlett,

pubhshcd in collaboration with the Museum of African American Art,
Los Angeles (Claremont, Calif: Hancraft Studios, 1984), pp. 93, 94.
Notes I

Page 32: "Choosing to be an artist . . .
." Michele Gibbs, personal commu-
nication, November 17, 1992.

Page 5j; "the sound of our own heartbeat in the dark." Lillian Smith, The
Winner Names the Age: A Collection of Writings by Lillian Smith, ed.

Michelle Cliff (New York: Norton, 1978), epigraph. The letters of
Lillian Smith, white antiracist writer and activist, edited by Margaret

Rose Gladney, have been pubHshed by the University of North Caro-

lina Press (Chapel Hill, 1993) under the title How Am I to Be Heard?

X. What does it mean, to put love into action?
Page 54: "He said I had this that I could love . . .
." Wallace Stevens, The
Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1954), p. 236.
Page 34: "I am a failure then, as the kind of revolutionary . . .
." Alice
Walker, Meridian (New York: Pocket Books, 1976), pp. 200-1.
Page 53: "Alone on the railroad track . . .
." Ehzabeth Bishop, The Complete
Poems igij-igjg (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1979), p. 8.

Page 36: "ties grown unmanageable will suffice." James Merrill, Afterword,

in David Kalstone, Becoming a Poet: Elizabeth Bishop with Marianne Moore
and Robert Lowell (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1989), p. 253.

Page 38: "a world in which all had the right to live." Barbara Deming, We
Cannot Live without Our Lives (New York: Viking-Grossman, 1974),

pp. 36-52.
Page 38: "This must change." Ibid., p. 45.

Page 60: "saturate the Third World in patterns of brutaHty." Sissela Bok,
Alva Myrdal: A Daughter's Memoir (Reading, Mass.: Addison- Wesley,
1991), pp. 345-46.
Page 61 : "women's movements, civil disobedience." See Barbara Deming,
Prisons That Could Not Hold: Prison Notes ig64-Seneca 1984 (San Fran-
cisco: Spinsters Ink, 1985).

Page 61 : "social and economic development." Bok, p. 287.

Page 61: "social institutions, including the family." Ibid., p. 352.
Page 61: "visible and responsive peace." Stevens, p. 236.
Page 61 "Peace : I have feared . . .
." Suzanne Gardinier, "To Peace," in her

The New World (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993), p. 3 1

Page 62: "heroism as we have come to understand it." Hayden Carruth,
personal communication, April 6, 1992. Donald Hall tells about Ezra
Pound, who in his later years wished to suppress his reading of the
poem "Sestina: Altaforte" praising war, on a recording in the Harvard
256 I

Poetry Room, on the grounds that "War ... is no longer —amusing"
(Donald Hall, Their Ancient Glittering Eyes: Remembering Poets and More
Poets [New York: Ticknor &: Fields, 1992], p. 207).

Page 6j: "By content, the Iliad is not the epic . . .
." Suzanne Gardinier,
"Two Cities: On 'The Iliad,' " The Kenyon Review 14, no. 2 (Spring

1992): 6.
Page 63: "For Michael Angelo Thompson." June Jordan, Things That I Do
in the Dark: Selected Poems (New York: Random House, 1977), pp.
Page 68: "The difference between poetry and rhetoric . . .
." Audre Lorde,
"Power," in her The Black Unicorn (New York: Norton, 1978),

pp. 108-9.
Page 70: "and I decided to pull over and just jot some things down . . .

Audre Lorde, Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Freedom, Calif.:

Crossing Press, 1984), pp. 107-8.

Page 72: "maple sugar in Vermont in 1752." Federal Writers Project, WPA
of Vermont, Vermont: A Guide to the Green Mountain State (Boston:
Houghton Mifflin, 1937), p. 371.

Page 78: "don't know what/where they are." Irena Klepfisz, "Picking up
the Pieces When We Don't Know What/Where They Are," speech
given for the Jewish Feminist Lecture Series, University of California at

Santa Cruz, June 22, 1991.
Page 78: Children of the Holocaust. Helen Epstein, Children of the Holocaust:
Conversations with Sons and Daughters of Survivors (New York: Bantam,
Page 78: Red Diaper Babies: Children of the Left. Judy Kaplan and Linn
Shapiro, eds.. Red Diaper Babies: Children of the Left (Somerville, Mass.:

Red Diaper Productions, 1985).
Page 79: "peer group without a sign." Epstein, p. 7.

XII. Someone is writing a poem
Page 8j: "The society whose modernization . Guy Debord, quoted in
. .

Thyrza Goodeve, "Watching for What Happens Next," in War after
War, ed. Nancy J. Peters, City Lights Review no. 5 (San Francisco:
City Lights Books, 1992).
Page 84: "torque converter for a jello mold." Diane Glancy, Claiming
Breath (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), p. 75.
Notes I

Page 86: "imprisoned by capitalism." Ed Oasa, "Speaking the Changes: An
Interview with Luis J. Rodriguez," Poetry Flash no. 240 (March-April
1993): 4-

Page 8y: "The Planet Krypton." Lynn Emanuel, "The Planet Krypton," in
her book The Dig (Urbana and Chicago: University of lUinois Press,
1992), pp. 4-5.

XIIL Beginners
Page go: "How they are provided for . . .
." Walt Whitman, Complete Poetry

and Collected Prose (New York: Library of America, 1982), p. 171.
Page gi: "All this is thenceforth . . .
." Ibid., p. 502.

Page gz: "unloosen'd, wondrous time." Ihid., p. 69on.
Page gz: "He ate and drank the precious Words — . . .
." Emily Dickinson,
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas Johnson (Boston
and New York: Little Brown, i960), no. 1587, p. 418.
Page gj: "trying it all by Nature." Whitman, p. 925.

Page gj: "never get in the books." Ibid., p. 778.
Page 93; "all the print I have read in my life." Whitman, Song of Myself
no. 13.
Page gj: "my pages from first to last." Whitman, Complete Poetry, p. 668.

Page gj: "Renunciation is a piercing virtue." Dickinson, no. 745, p. 365.

Page gj: "we consign to language." Emily Dickinson, The Collected Letters

of Emily Dickinson, ed. Thomas Johnson (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1952), no. 562, p. 617.
Page gj: "sensual, eating drinking and breeding." Whitman, Complete Po-
etry, p. 50.

Page gj: "On my volcano grows . . .
." Dickinson, Poems, no. 1677,
p. 685.

Page gj: "Through me forbidden voices . . .
." Whitman, Complete Poetry,

p. 211.

Page g4: "her unappeasable thirst for fame." Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of

Poetry (New York: A. A. Wyn, 1949), p. 93.
Page g4: "I tie my Hat — I crease my Shawl — . . .
." Dickinson, Poems,
no. 443, p. 212.
Page g6: "become a golfer." Janet Stemburg, ed.. The Writer on Her Work
(New York: Norton, 1980), pp. 219-20.
Page gj: "why is he lost?" Muriel Rukeyser, The Traces of Thomas Hariot
(New York: Random House, 1970), p. 3.
258 I

Page gy: "deeper at these times." Ibid., pp. 3— 4.
Page gy: "One of the attacks on me for writing . . .
." William Packard, ed.,

The Poet's Craft: Interviews from the "New York Quarterly" (New York:
Paragon, 1987), p. 136.

Page g8: "It is by a long road of presumption . . .
." Muriel Rukeyser,
Willard Gibbs : American Genius (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran,

1942), p. 12.
Page gg: "what a woman's poetry should look like." See, for example,
Randall Jarrell, Poetry and the Age (New York: Knopf, 1953), pp. 163-
66; R.S.P., "Grandeur and Misery of a Poster Girl," Partisan Review 10,

no. 5 (September/October 1943): 471-73.
Page gg: "the toys of fame." Rukeyser, Gibbs, p. 433.
Page 100: "Anglo-Saxons and Christians." "The Agrarians . . . reaffirmed
the history of their inherited European culture. It had a name, but the
name had fallen into disuse. It was, of course, Christendom" (Andrew
Lytle, Foreword, The Southern Mandarins: Letters of Caroline Gordon to

Sally Wood [Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1984], p. 4).
Page 100: "Uke natural growths." Richard Ellman and Robert O' Clair,
eds.. The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, 2d ed. (New York: Norton,
1988), p. 880. A Muriel Rukeyser Reader, edited by Jan HeUer Levi, will

be published by Norton in 1994.

XIV. The real, not the calendar, twenty-first century
Page 103: "Shadrack began a struggle . . .
." Toni Morrison, Sula (New
York: Bantam, 1973), p. 12.

Page 104: "And ever-present in the freezing, prewar . . .
." Anna Akh-
matova, The Complete Poems of Anna Akhmatova, ed. Roberta Reeder,
trans. Judith Hemschemeyer, 2 vols. (Somerville, Mass.: Zephyr Press,
I990),II, p. 437-
Page 103: "fire in which we bum." Delmore Schwartz, Selected Poems
(New York: New Directions, 1967), p. 67.
Page 106: "graphic chauvinism, especially offensive." Reese Williams, ed.,
Unwinding the Vietnam War: From War into Peace (Seatde: Real Comet
Press, 1987), pp. 265-66.

XV. "A clearing in the imagination"
Page 107: "better judgment making." William Shakespeare, Sonnet 87, in
The Riverside Shakespeare (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1974), p. 1765-
Notes I

Page 108: "without being maudlin." Helen Vendler, "A Dissonaiit Triad,"

Parnassus: Poetry in Review 16, no. 2 (1991): 391.

Page no: "self-entertainment for the few?": John Haines, "The Hole in

the Bucket," in Claims for Poetry, ed. Donald Hall (Ann Arbor: Univer-
sity of Michigan Press, 1987), pp. 131-40.

Page 111: "In the forest without leaves . . . ."John Haines, "In the Forest
without Leaves," in his New Poems: igSo-igSS (Brownsville, Ore.:
Story Line Press, 1990), pp. 79-93-
Page 116: "When you imagine trumpet-faced musicians . . .
." Muriel
Rukeyser, "Homage to Literature," in her The Collected Poems of Muriel
Rukeyser (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978), p. 109.
Page 116: "On a long voyage ." Poem no. 57, in Him Mark Lai, Genny
. . .

Lim, and Judy Yung, Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on
Angel Island, 1910-1940 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991),

p. 122.

Page 117: "Sadly, Ilisten to the sounds ." Poem no. 18, ibid., p. 56. . . .

"Angel Island, now an idyllic state park out in San Francisco Bay not far
from Alcatraz, was the point of entry for the majority of approximately
175,000 Chinese immigrants who came to America between 19 10-
1940. Modelled after New York's Ellis Island, the site was used as the

immigration detention headquarters for Chinese awaiting jurisdiction
on the outcomes of medical examinations and immigration papers. It

was also the holding grounds for deportees awaiting transportation back
to the motherland. The ordeal of immigration and detention left an
indelible mark in the minds of many Chinese, a number of whom
wrote poetry on the barrack walls, recording the impressions of their

voyage to America, their longing for families back home, and their
outrage and humiliation at the treatment America accorded them"
(p. 8).

Page 117: "En el bote del county . . .
." Luis J. Rodriguez, Always Running:
La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A. (Willimantic, Conn.: Curbstone Press,
1993). PP- 189-90. "From the age of 13 on, I ended up in cells Hke
those of the San Gabriel jail house places like Pomona, Temple City, —
East L.A., Monterey Park, East Lake's juvenile detention hall and the

L.A. county jail system following the [Chicano] Moratorium [against
the War in Vietnam, August 29, 1970]. . . . [T]his time, at 17 years old,

I faced a serious charge of attempted murder. . . . The cell walls were
filled with the warrior's art. . . . Smoked outlines of women's faces were
2 6 o I

burned onto the painted brick. There were love messages . . . —and

XVI. What is an American life?

Paj^e iig: "crammed next to the ghettos." Lester Sloan, "Dumping: A
New Form of Genocide?" Emerge 3, no. 4 (February 1992): 19-22;
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and Dennis Rivera, "Pollution's Chief Vic-
tims: The Poor," New York Times (August 15, 1992), Op-Ed page.
Page iig: "I saw the moon at first . . . ."Jimmy Santiago Baca, "Against,"
in his Immigrants in Our Own Land (New York: New Directions, 1982),

pp. 41-42.
Page 121: "What does it mean when poets surrender . . .
." David Mura,
"Notes for a New Poem," unpub. essay, quoted by permission of the
Page 121 : "to live in a tragic time." Wallace Stevens, The Collected Poems of
Wallace Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1954), p. 199.
Page 122: "fled into expatriation, emigrated inwardly." See Hannah
Arendt, Men in Dark Times (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
1968), p. 19: "During . . . [1933-1938] in Germany there existed the
phenomenon known as 'inner emigration' ... a curiously ambiguous
phenomenon. It signified on the one hand that there were persons
inside Germany who behaved as if they no longer belonged to the

country, who felt like emigrants; and on the other hand it indicated that
they had not in reality emigrated, but had withdrawn to an interior
realm, into the invisibility of thinking and feeling. . . . [I]n the darkest of
times, inside and outside Germany the temptation was particularly

strong, to shift from the world and its public space to an interior life, or
else simply to ignore that world in favor of an imaginary world 'as it

ought to be' or as it once upon a time had been."
One white and working-class poet who refused any kind of "inner
emigration" was Richard Hugo. His poetry is almost entirely about
what it means to be and feel a failure in the "land of equal opportunity."
His poem "What Thou Lovest Well Remains American" is all about
the smell of failure and the need to blame it on one's own class or
people rather than on the failure of the national fantasy (Richard Hugo,
Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo [New
York: Norton, 1984]).
Notes I

Page i2j: "the trams are running." Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope against

Hope (New York: Atheneum, 1970), pp. 160-216.

XVII. Moment of proof
Page 124: "didn't have much effect." Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope against

Hope (New York: Atheneum, 1970), p. 153. In 1937, Osip Mandelstam
had forced himself to write an "Ode to StaUn," hoping to save his own

Page 123: "The fear of poetry is the . . .
." Muriel Rukeyser, The Collected

Poems of Muriel Rukeyser (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978), pp. 160-61.

Page i26; "I remember a psychologist . . .
." Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of

Poetry (New York: A. A. Wyn, 1949), p- 12.
Page 127: "It forms the quaHty of the light . . .
." Audre Lorde, "Poetry Is

Not a Luxury," in her Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Freedom,
Cahf Crossing Press,
: 1984), p. 37.
Page 127: "Recently I heard someone say . . .
." Mandelstam, p. 253.

XVIII. "History stops for no one"
Page 128: "It was not natural. And she was the first . . . ."June Jordan, "The
Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in America," in her Moving towards
Home: Political Essays (London: Virago, 1989), p. 162.

Page 128: ''Zi shemt zikhjShG is ashamed . . .
." Irena Klepfisz, "D/ rayze

aheym jThe Journey Home," in her A Few Words in the Mother Tongue:
Poems Selected and New, ig7i-iggo (Portland, Ore.: Eighth Mountain
Press, 1990), pp. 216-24.
Page ijo: "Not Vanishing." Chrystos, Not Vanishing (Vancouver: Press
Gang Publishers, 1989).

Page ijo: "Sorrow Songs." W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk (1903;
rpt. New York: Fawcett, 1969). "These songs are the articulate message
of the slave to the world. . . . The ten master songs I have mentioned tell

inword and music of trouble and exile, of strife and hiding; they grope
toward some unseen power and sigh for rest in the End. Through all . . .

the sorrow of the Sorrow Songs there breathes a hope — a faith in the

ultimate justice of things. The minor cadences of despair change often

to triumph and calm confidence. Sometimes it is faith in Hfe, sometimes
a faith in death, sometimes assurance of boundless justice in some fair

world beyond. But whichever it is, the meaning is always clear: that

sometime, somewhere, men will judge men by their souls and not
262 I

by their skin. Is such a hope justified? Do the Sorrow Songs sing true?"

(pp. 183-89).
Page ijfi: "Destruction (of the Temple)." Irena Klepfisz, "Secular Jewish
Identity: Yidishkayt in America," in her Dreams of an Insomniac: Jewish
Feminist Essays, Speeches and Diatribes (Portland, Ore.: Eighth Mountain
Press, 1990).

Page iji: "during the war . . .
." Klepfisz, A Few Words, p. 43.
Page IJ3: "These two: . .
." Ibid., p. 37.

Page ij6: "had circumstances been different." Ibid., p. 30.

Page ij6: "common things, gestures and events." Klepfisz, Dreams,
pp. 132-35-
Page ij6: "who have perished." Klepfisz, A Few Words, p. 37.

Page ij6: "history stops for no one." Ibid., p. 236.
Page ij6: "when they took us . . .
." Ibid., p. 47.

Page ijy: "conversations over brandy." Ibid., pp. 49-50.
Page ij8: "walking home alone . . .
." Ibid.,
pp. 190-93.
Page i^g: "torn between ways." Gloria Anzaldua, Borderlands/La Frontera:
The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Spinsters/ Aunt Lute Books, 1987),
p. 78.

Page 142: "she'd never before been forced . . .
." Klepfisz, A Few Words,
p. 76.

XIX. The transgressor mother
Page 147: "Crime against Nature." Minnie Bruce Pratt, Crime against Nature
(Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand, 1990).
Page 147: "I used to drive down the coast . . .
." Minnie Bruce Pratt,

"Romance," in her The Sound of One Fork (Durham, N.C.: Night
Heron Press, 1981), pp. 23-24.
Page I4g: ". . . the place of the Piscataway . . .
." Minnie Bruce Pratt,

"Reading Maps: Three," in her We Say We Love Each Other (San
Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute Books, 1985), p. 96.
Page i^g: "Finally I understood that I could feel sorrow . . .
." Elly Bulkin,
Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Barbara Smith, Yours in Struggle: Three Feminist
Perspectives on Anti-Semitism and Racism (1984; Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand,
1989), p. 41.
Page 160: "a context to nourish it." Oddly enough, if you search through
nonfeminist hterary journals and periodicals, this groundswell of femi-
nist and lesbian writing would seem to be invisible: it is never men-
Notes I

tioned as a literary movement, its writers, save for a few of the most
famous, never alluded to. A striking case in point is Ira Sadoff' s "Neo-
Formalism: A Dangerous Nostalgia," American Poetry Review 19, no. i

(January-February 1990), an essay with much of which I agree but
which represents, finally, a truncated version of the state of American
poets and poetry today. There are, close to home, among feminist, gay,
and lesbian poets, among poets of communities of color, a profusion of
what Sadoff is seeking: "poems that make engaged, dramatized, and
surprising connections between the self and the social world, the mon-
ument and history."

Page 160: "Communist Eastern Europe, on the other." Vaclav Havel, Va-
clav Havel: Living in Truth, ed. Jan Vladislav (London and Boston: Faber
& Faber, 1990), p. loi. Havel attributes the concept of a "second cul-
ture" to Ivanjirous.
Page j6i ; "an unsettling presence altogether." The prize had been awarded
by an independent jury of two men and one woman (Marvin Bell,
Alfred Com, and Sandra McPherson), who described the book as
"forceful" and "masterful" — adjectives clearly meant in praise but in-

teresting in terms of the poUtics of language.
Page 161: "marched to his words." Pratt, along with Black lesbian poet
Audre Lorde and American Indian lesbian poet Chrystos, received a

$20,000 creative-writing grant from the National Foundation for the
Arts in the spring of 1990. Helms sent their names, among others, on an
arts blacklist to the comptroller general of the United States.
Page 162: "The profound crisis of human identity . . .
." Havel, p. 62.

Page 162: "start to crack." Ihid., p. 28.

Page 167: "Working in words I am an escapist . . .
." Robert Duncan,
Bending the Bow (New York: New Directions, 1968), pp. v, 9.
Page 168: "A Family Resemblance." Audre Lorde, "A Family Resem-
blance," in her Undersong: Chosen Poems Old and New, rev. ed. (New
York: Norton, 1992), pp. 40-41.
Page 170: "A Woman Is Talking to Death." Judy Grahn, "A Woman Is
Talking to Death," in her The Work of a Common Woman (Freedom,
Cahf: Crossing Press, 1978), pp. 11 3-31.

Page 17;): "Men with the heads of eagles . . .
." Margaret Atwood, You Are
Happy (New York: Harper & Row, 1974), p. 47.
264 I

Page 175: "that great poet of inseparables, Muriel Rukeyser." The poet
Enid Dame writes: "You locate the roots of the [women's poetry
movement] in the Beat rebel poetry of the '50s and '60s. That's cer-
tainly true in my case. Allen Ginsberg's poetry, especially 'Kaddish,' the
culture of the East Village, the politics of the New Left, and the emerg-
ing women's movement and its encouragement of women artists all

affected my own growth and work as a poet. Significantly, Hke many
people in those days, I belonged to several 'small groups' — a women's
CR group, a Jewish CR group (men and women) and later best of all, a

leaderless, all-women's poetry workshop, the Women's CoUage. (We
lasted four years and pubHshed an anthology.) I was . . . touched by your
comment that our movement provided a 'background' for younger
women poets— I know they're still out there, writing poems, editing
magazines, even, perhaps, 'speaking of revolution' in these increasingly
perilous times" (personal communication, February i, 1992).
Page 176: "The reality of being women . . .
." Ordinary Women: An Anthol-
ogy of Poetry by New York City Women, ed. Sara Miles, Patricia Jones,
Sandra Maria Esteves, and Fay Chiang, intro. Adrienne Rich (New
York: Ordinary Women Books, 1978), pp. 11-13, 45, 85, 107.
Page 180: "You are fearless of the language . . .
." Leshe Marmon Silko and

James Wright, The DeUcacy and Strength of Lace: Letters, ed. Anne Wright
(St. Paul: Graywolf Press, 1985), pp. 81-82.

XXI. The distance between language and violence
Page 182: "A thing of beauty is a joy forever . . . ."John Keats, "Endym-
ion," in The Poetical Works ofJohn Keats, 2 vols. (Boston: Little Brown,
1899), I, p. 85.

Page 182: "Tyger, Tyger, burning bright . . . ."All passages from William
Blake are from The Poetry and Prose of William Blake, ed. David Erdman
(New York: Doubleday/ Anchor, 1970).
Page 188: "Ah, Christ, I love . . .
." Allen Tate, "Sonnets at Christmas," in
The Voice That Is Great within Us: American Poetry of the Twentieth Cen-
tury, ed. Hayden Carruth (New York: Bantam, 1970), p. 221.

XXII. Not how to write poetry but wherefore
Page igo: "You have to change your life." Rainer Maria Rilke, The Selected

Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke, ed. and trans. Stephen Mitchell (New
Notes I

York: Random House/ Vintage, 1986), pp. 60-61. "You have to
change your life" is my American rendering of the Hne.

Page igi: "Radical changes and significant novelty . . .
." W. H. Auden,
Foreword, in Adrienne Rich, A Change of World (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 195 1), p- 8.

Page igz: ". . . poetry makes nothing happen . . .
." W. H. Auden, "In
Memory of W. B. Yeats," in his Collected Poems (New York: Random
House, 1945), p. 50.

Page i 92; "In the nightmare of the dark . . .
." Ibid., p. 51.

Page 194: "Air without Incense." Adrienne Rich, Collected Early Poems
igso-igjo (New York: Norton, 1993), p. 15. Muriel Rukeyser, in an
essay on her Jewish identity, wrote of her childhood experience of
temple services: "I think that many people brought up in reformed
Judaism must go starving for two phases of religion: poetry and politics"
(see "Poet . . . Woman . . . American . . .Jew," Bridges: A Journal for
Jewish Feminists and Our Friends i, no. i (Spring 1990): 23-29.
Page ig3: " 'difficult' and unorthodox." Reginald Gibbons and Terrence
DesPres, eds., Thomas McGrath: Life and the Poem (Urbana and Chicago:
University of Illinois Press, 1992), pp. 120-21.

XXIII. "Rotted names"
Page igg: "She sang beyond the genius of the sea . . .
." Wallace Stevens,
The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (New York: Knopf, 195 5).
pp. 128-30.
Page igg: "Now grapes are plush upon the vines . . .
." Ibid., p. 266.

Page 200: "Nota: man is the intelligence of his soil . . .
." Void., p. 27.

Page 201 "The book of moonlight is not written yet ." Ibid., 33-34.
: . . .
Page 201: "It has to be living, to learn the speech . . .
." Ibid., pp. 239-40.
Stevens's program for modem poetry implies a tradition of poetry that
has failed to do these very things.

Page 202: "Throw away the lights, the definitions . . .
." Ibid., p. 183.

Page 204: "frozen metaphors." Aldon Lynn Nielsen, Reading Race: White
American Poets and the Racial Discourse in the Twentieth Century (Athens
and London: University of Georgia Press, 1988), p. 9. Marjorie Perloff

notes, in Stevens's letters written during World War II, his dismissive

labeling of various literary intellectuals, even those he admired, as "a
266 I

Jew and a Communist," a "Jew and an anti-Fascist," "a Catholic," and
his attempt, in the long poem "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction,"

(1941-1942), to construct "an elaborate and daunting rhetoric . . .

designed to convince both poet and reader that, despite the daily head-
lines and radio bulletins, the real action takes place in the country of
metaphor" (Albert J. Gelpi, ed., Wallace Stevens: The Poetics of Modem-

ism [London and New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985],

pp. 41-52).
Page 203: "fairly substantial income." Wallace Stevens, Letters of Wallace
Stevens, ed. Holly Stevens (New York: Knopf, 1966), p. 321.
Page 205: "Africanism." "I am using the term 'Africanism' for the denota-
tive and connotative blackness that African peoples have come to

signify, as well as the entire range of views, assumptions, readings,

and misreadings that accompany Eurocentric learning about these peo-

ples. ... As a disabhng virus within Hterary discourse, Africanism has
become, in the Eurocentric tradition that American education favors,

both a way of talking about and a way of poHcing matters of class, sexual

hcense, and repression, formations and exercises of power, and medita-
tions on ethics and accountabiHty" (Toni Morrison, Playing in the Dark:
Whiteness and the Literary Imagination [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Uni-
versity Press, 1992], pp. 6-7).

XXIV. A poet's education
Page 206: "written by circumstance and environment." Diane Glancy,
Claiming Breath (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1992), p. 85.
Page 206: "use of myself as a found object." Ibid., p. 23.

Page 206: "Arkansas backhill culture." Ibid., p. 22.

Page 207: "Before I was eighteen, . . ."Jimmy Santiago Baca, Working in the

Dark: Reflections of a Poet of the Barrio (Santa Fe: Red Crane Books,
1992), pp. 4-6.
Page 208: "in a world . . . run by men's rules . . .
." Ibid., p. 65.

Page 208: "Every poem is an infant . . .
." Ibid., p. 66.

Page 2og: "There was nothing so humiliating . . .
." Ibid., p. 4.

Page 2og: "En boca cerrada no entran moscas . . .
." Gloria Anzaldua, Border-

lands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (San Francisco: Spinsters/ Aunt Lute
Books, 1987), p. 54.

Page 210: "the coming together of opposite qualities within." Ibid., p. 19.
Notes I

Page 210: "In the 1960s, I read my first Chicano novel . . .
." Ibid.,

pp. 59-61.
Page 211: "After the divorce, I had new territory . . .
." Glancy, pp. 86-87.


Page 2iy. "Poetry is not a luxury." Audre Lorde, "Poetry Is Not a Lux-
ury," in her Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches (Freedom, Calif: Cross-
ing Press, 1984), p. 36.
Page 216: "the intimate face of universal struggle." June Jordan, Civil Wars
(Boston: Beacon Press, 198 1), p. xi.

XXVI. Format and form
Page 217: "Format: —
n. ..." Paul Goodman, Speaking and Language: A
Defence of Poetry (New York: Random House, 1971), pp. 200-1.
Page 218: "Format is not like censorship . . .
." Ihid., pp. 202-3.
Page 2ig: "works almost in resistance to the form." Richard Hugo, The
Triggering Toum: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing (New York:
Norton, 1979), pp. 5 ff.

Page 2ig: "No worst, there is none . . .
." Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems of
Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. Robert Bridges and W. H. Gardner (Lon-
don: Oxford University Press, 1952), pp. 106-7.
Page 2ig: "If we must die, let it not be like hogs . . .
." In Claude McKay,
Selected Poems of Claude McKay (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich,
1981), p. 36. McKay's sonnet, written out by hand, was found in the

aftermath of the assault by state troopers on the state prison at Attica,

New York, on September 21, 1971, where prisoners protesting condi-
tions had staged a rebellion. A reporter for Time ascribed authorship of
the poem to one of the prisoners: "Many of the self-styled revolution-

aries from other
transferred to Attica prisons because of their mili-
tancy—smuggled banned books by such writers as Malcolm X and
Bobby Seale into their cells, and held secret poHtical meetings when
pretending to be at chapel or engaged in intramural athletics. They
passed around clandestine writings of their own; among them was a

poem written by an unknown prisoner, crude but touching in its

would-be heroic style" (a cut followed with the first four lines of
McKay's sonnet copied in a clearly printed handwriting). (See Time
[September 27, 1971], p. 20.) A member of the Oakland Black Writers
Guild recalled that McKay's poem was found on the body of an

268 I

African- American soldier killed in World War II (Michelle Cliff, per-
sonal communication, 1992).
Page 220: "The camps hold their distance — . . .
." Derek Walcott, "XLI,"
in his Midsummer (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984).
Page 221: "if we are free, all may be free." This draft is in the Manuscript
Division of the Library of Congress.
Page 221: "To be a Jew in the twentieth century . . .
." Muriel Rukeyser,
The Collected Poems of Muriel Rukeyser (New York: McGraw-Hill,
1978), p. 239.
Page 22^: "Girl from the realm of birds florid and fleet . . . ."June Jordan,
Moving towards Home: Political Essays (London: Virago, 1 989) pp. 1 6 1-7 1 ,

Page 22J : "tus manos son dos martillos que clavan . . .
." Francisco X.
Alarcon, De amoroscuro: Of Dark Love (Santa Cruz, CaHf Moving : Parts
Press, 1991), n.p.

Page 225: "The deliberate response to format . Goodman, pp. 215-17.
. .

Page 227: "defenders of privilege." In her essay "The Essential Gesture,"
Nadine Gordimer speaks of the efforts of some modern writers, im-
pelled by a sense of social responsibihty, to "transform the world by
style." She is chiefly considering novehsts, but her remarks apply to

poets as well: "This was and is something that could not serve as the
writer's essential gesture in countries such as South Africa and Nicara-
gua, but it has had its possibilities and sometimes proves its validity

where complacency, indifference, accidie, and not conflict, threaten

the human spirit. To transform the world by style was the iconoclastic
essential gesture tried out by the Symbolists and Dadaists; but whatever
social transformation (in shaping a new consciousness) they might have
served in breaking old forms was horribly superseded by different
means: Europe, the Far, Middle and Near East, Asia, Latin America and
Africa overturned by wars; miUions of human beings wandering with-
out the basic structure of a roof" (Nadine Gordimer, The Essential
Gesture: Writing, Politics and Places, ed. and intro. Stephen Clingman
[New York: Knopf, 1988], p. 296).

XXVII. Tourism and promised lands
Page 2jo: "Even then "June Jordan, "SoHdarity," in her Naming Our
Destiny: New and Selected Poems (New York: Thunder's Mouth Press,

1989), p. 171.
Page 2J2: "This book is not a response to public Hfe . . .
." Thomas Larsen,
Notes I

"Uneasy Confessions," review of Truth and Lies That Press for Life: Sixty

Los Angeles Poets, ed. Connie Hersheym (Concord, Mass.: Artifact

Press, 1992), in Poetry Flash no. 232 (July 1992): i.

Page 2J4: "a turning point in human history." Marxist- Humanism: A Half
Century of Its World Development, XII: Guide to the Raya Dunayevskaya
Collection; ed. Raya Dunayevskaya (Detroit, Mich.: Wayne State Uni-
versity Library, 1986), p. 59. Available on microfilm from Wayne State

University Library.

Page 255; "When there is no history . . .
." Michael S. Harper, Song: I Want
a Witness (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1972), p. i.

Page 235: "The economy of the nation . . .
." Muriel Rukeyser, The Life of

Poetry (New York: A. A. Wyn, 1949), p. 61.
Page 233: "We must constantly encourage ourselves . . .
." Audre Lorde,
"Poetry Is Not a Luxury," in her Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
(Freedom, Calif: Crossing Press, 1984), pp. 38-39.

Page 236: "To be revolutionary is to be original . . .
." Ines Hernandez, "An
Open Letter to Chicanas on the Power and Politics of Origin," in
Without Discovery: A Native Response to Columbus, ed. Ray Gonzalez
(Seatde: Broken Moon Press, 1992), p. 161.

Page 236: "The country's uniqueness no longer resides . . .
." These are not

the words of a writer in the left-wing press; they were written by
Stephen Graubard, editor oi Daedalus: Journal of the American Academy of
Arts and Sciences, an academic-intellectual publication sponsored by an
ehte institution (sec "Political Pharmacology: Thinking about Drugs,"
Daedalus [Summer 1992]: vi-vii).
Page 237: "an icon to be shot down." Octavio Paz, The Other Voice (New
York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1990), p. 65.

Page 2j8: "undergo change or self-destruct." Ibid., p. 156.

Page 2j8: "has appeared in thirty years." Ibid., p. 119.

Page 2j8: "Europe and Africa." For some of the work of these poetic
movements, see the Selected Bibliography.

Page 2j8: "What looks the strongest . . .
." Seamus Heaney, "From the
Canton of Expectation," in his Selected Poems ig66-ig87 (New York:
Noonday Press, 1990), p. 258.

Page 2jg: "radical juxtaposition with Gibbs's paintings." "Radical juxtapo-
sition" is Gibbs's phrase.
2 70 I

Page 240: "Here is soot Today . . .
." Suzanne Gardinier, The New World
(Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1993), p. 55.

Page 241 : "bhnd sorrow." Ibid.

Page 242: "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa." Kamau Brathwaite, in

his Middle Passages (New York: New Directions, 1993), pp. 43-48.
Page 247: "For Anna Mae Pictou Aquash ."Joy Harjo, In Mad Love and
. . .

War (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1990), pp. 7-8.
Page 24g: "In another place, not here ." Dionne Brand, No Language Is
. . .

Neutral (Toronto: Coach House Press, 1990), p. 34.
Selected Bibliography

I want to emphasize "selected." There are many other books of
poetry and of prose that could be cited here, I have made this

short list for readers who want to follow up on the work of poets
whose words appear in the text and are cited in the notes, or on
other poets whose words do not appear here but might have


Brant, Beth, ed. A Gathering of Spirit: A Collection by North American Indian
Women. (1984). Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand Books, 1988.
Bruchac, Joseph, ed. Breaking Silence: An Anthology of Contemporary Asian
American Poets. Greenfield Center, N.Y.: Greenfield Review Press,

. Songs from This Earth on Turtle's Back: Contemporary American In-
dian Poetry. Greenfield Center, N.Y.: Greenfield Review Press, 1983.

Bulkin, Elly, and Joan Larkin, eds. Lesbian Poetry: An Anthology. Water-
town, Mass.: Persephone Press, 198 1.

Chin, Marilyn, and David Wong Louie, eds. Dissident Song: A Contempo-
rary Asian American Anthology. Santa Cruz: Quarry West, 1991.
Feinstein, Sascha, and Yusuf Komunyakaa, eds. The Jazz Poetry Anthology.
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1991.
272 I
Selected Bibliography

Gonzalez, Ray, ed. After Atzlan: Latino Poets of the Nineties. Boston: David
R. Godine, 1992.
Hahn, Kimiko, Gale Jackson, and Susan Sherman. We Stand Our Ground:
Three Women, Their Vision, Their Poems. New York: I-KON, 1988.
Hongo, Garrett, ed. The Open Boat: Poems from Asian America. New York:
Doubleday/ Anchor, 1993.
Klein, Michael, ed.. Poets for Life: Seventy-six Poets Respond to AIDS. New
York: Crown, 1989.
Larkin, Joan, and Carl Morse, eds. Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time: An
Anthology. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.
Majzels, Robert, ed. The Guerilla Is Like a Poet: An Anthology of Filipino
Poetry. Ontario: Cormorant Books, 1988.
Phillips, J. J., Ishmael Reed, Gundars Strads, and Shawn Wong, eds. The
Before Columbus Foundation Poetry Anthology. New York: Norton,
Piercy, Marge, ed. Early Ripening: American Women's Poetry Now. New
York and London: Pandora, 1987.
Saint, Assoto, ed. The Road before Us: 100 Gay Black Poets. New York:
Galiens Press, 1991.
Waldman, Anne, ed. Out of This World: The Poetry Project of St. Mark's

Church-in- the- Bowery, ig66-iggi. New York: Crown, 1991.
Yamada, Mitsuye, and Sarie Sachie Hylkema. Sowing Ti Leaves: Writings by

Multi-cultural Women. Irvine, Calif.: Multi-cultural Writers of Orange
County, 1990.

Further Works by Poets Cited
Alarcon, Francisco X. Snake Poems: An Aztec Incantation. San Francisco:
Chronicle Books, 1992.
No Golden Gate for Us. Santa Fe: Pennywhisde Press,
Baca, Jimmy Santiago. Black Mesa Poems. New York: New Directions,

Brand, Dionne. Primitive Offensive. Toronto: Williams- Wallace, 1982.
Winter Epigrams and Epigrams for Ernesto Cardenal in Defense of
Claudia. Toronto: Williams- Wallace, 1983.

Brant, Beth. Food and Spirits Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand Books, 1991.

Brodine, Karen. Woman Sitting at the Machine, Thinking: Poems igjS-igSj.
Seattle: Red Letter Press, 1990.
Selected Bibliography | 273

Carmth, Hayden. Selected Shorter Poems, ig46-iggi. Port Townsend,
Wash.: Copper Canyon Press, 1992.
. Suicides and Jazzers. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press,
. Sitting In: Selected Writing on Jazz, Blues, and Related Topics. Iowa
City: University of Iowa Press, (1986), 1993.

Duncan, Robert. Bending the Bow. New York: New Directions, 1968.
. Ground Work II: In the Dark. New York: New Directions, 1987.
Esteves, Sandra Maria. Bluestown Mockingbird Mambo. Houston: Arte Pub-
Uco Press, 1990.

Gardinier, Suzanne. Usahn: Twelve Poems and a Story. New York: Grand
Street, 1990.

Glancy, Diane. Iron Woman. New York: New Rivers Press, 1990.
. Lone Dog's Winter Count. Albuquerque: West End Press, 1991.

Goodman, Paul. Draunng the Line: A Pamphlet. New York: Random
House, 1962.
. Growing Up Absurd: Problems of Youth in the Organized System.
New York: Vintage, 1962
. The Lordly Hudson. New York: Macmillan, 1962.
. Utopian Essays and Practical Proposals. New York: Random House,
— Hawkweed. New York:
. Vintage, 1967.
Haines, John. News from the Glacier: Selected Poems 1960-1980. Middletown,
Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1982.

Harjo, Joy. She Had Some Horses. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press,

Harper, Michael. Dear John, Dear Coltrane. Pittsburgh: University of Pitts-
burgh Press, 1970.

. History Is Your Own Heartbeat. Urbana: University of Illinois Press,
. Debridement. New York: Doubleday, 1973.
Hikmet, Nazim. Rubaiyat, trans. Randy Biasing and Mutlu Konuk. Provi-
dence, R.I.: Copper Beech Press, 1985.
Hugo, Richard. Making Certain It Goes On: Collected Poems. New York:
Norton, 1984.
Jordan, June. Technical Difficulties: African American Notes on the State of the

Union. New York: Pantheon, 1992.
274 I
Selected Bibliography

-. Haruko/Love Poems: New and Selected Love Poems. New York:
High Risk Books/Serpent's Tail, 1994.

Kinnell, Galway. What a Kingdom It Was. Boston: Houghton Mifflin,
. The Book of Nightmares Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1971.

. The Past. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
When One Has Lived for a Long Time Alone. New York: Knopf,
Levertov, Denise. The Poet in the World. New York: New Directions,

. New York: New Directions, 1983.
Poems 1960-1967.
Poems 1968-1972. New York: New Directions, 1987.

New and Selected Essays. New York: New Directions, 1992.

Lorde, Audre. Undersong. New York: Norton, 1992.
The Marvelous Arithmetics of Distance New York: Norton, 1993.
. .

McGrath, Thomas. Letter to an Imaginary Friend, Parts I and U. Chicago:
Swallow Press, 1970.

. Letter to an Imaginary Friend, Parts III and IV, Port Townsend,
Wash.: Copper Canyon Press, 1985.
Mura, David. After We Lost Our Way. New York: Dutton, 1989.
Pratt, Minnie Bruce. Rebellion: Essays 1980-1991, Ithaca, N.Y.: Firebrand
Books, 1991.

Other Works
Agosin, Marjorie. Zones of Pain/Las Zonas del Dolor. New York: White
Pine Press, 1988.
. Circles of Madness: Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo. Fredonia, N.Y.:
White Pine Press, 1992.

Agiieros, Jack. Correspondence between the Stonehaulers . Brooklyn, N.Y.:
Hanging Loose Press, 1991.

Aguilar, Mila D. A Comrade Is As Precious As a Rice Seedling. Latham, N.Y.:
Kitchen Table/Women of Color Press, 1987. With an introduction
by Audre Lorde.
Allison, Dorothy. The Women Who Hate Me: Poetry 1980-1990. Ithaca,
N.Y.: Firebrand Books, 1991.
Arteaga, Alfred. Cantos. San Jose: Chusma House, 1991.
Ashanti, Baron James. Nova. New York: Harlem River Press, 1990.
Selected Bibliography | 275

Cesaire, Aime. Discourse on Colonialism. New York and London: Monthly
Review Press, 1972.

Cisneros, Sandra. My Wicked, Wicked Ways. New York: Turtle Bay Books,
Cooper, Jane. Scaffolding. Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House, 1993.
. Green Notebook, Winter Road. Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House,
Derricotte, Toi. Captivity. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1989.
Doubiago, Sharon. Hard Country. MinneapoUs: West End Press, 1982.

. The Book of Seeing with One's Own Eyes. St. Paul: Graywolf Press,
Dumas, Henry. Knees of a Natural Man: The Selected Poetry of Henry Dumas,
New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 1989.

Hamill, Sam. A Poet's Work: The Other Side of Poetry. Seatde: Broken
Moon Press, 1990.
Hemphill, Essex. Ceremonies: Prose and Poetry. New York: Penguin/Plume,
Hogan, Linda. Red Clay: Poems and Stories. Greenfield Center, N.Y.:
Greenfield Review Press, 1991.

Ignatow, David. New and Collected Poems, igyo-igSy Middletown, Conn.:
Wesleyan University Press, 1986.

. The One in the Many: A Poet's Memoirs. Middletown, Conn.:
Wesleyan University Press, 1988.

Islas, Arturo. The Rain God: A Desert Tale. Palo Alto: Alexandrian Press,

. Migrant Souls: A Novel. New York: WiUiam Morrow, 1990.

Joseph, Lawrence. Shouting at No One. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh
Press, 1983.

. Curriculum Vitae. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1988.
Komunyakaa, Yusuf Bien Cai Dau. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan Uni-
versity Press, 1988.
. Magic City. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press,
Laux, Dorianne. A.wake. Brockport, N.Y.: BOA Editions, 1990.
Lee, Li-Young. Rose. Brockport, N.Y.: BOA Editions, 1986.
. The City in Which I Love You. Brockport, N.Y.: BOA Editions,

276 I
Selected Bibliography

Levine, Philip. New and Selected Poems. New York: Knopf, 1991.
. What Work Is. New York: Knopf, 1991.
Merwin, W. S. Writings for an Unfinished Accompaniment. New York:
Knopf, 1973.
. Travels. New York: Knopf, 1993.
Mphalele, Ezekiel. Voices in the Whirlwind. New York: HiU and Wang,
Paley, Grace. New and Collected Poems. Gardiner, Maine: Tilbury House,
Randall, Margaret. Risking a Somersault in the Air: Conversations with Nicara-

guan Writers. San Francisco: Solidarity Publications, 1984.
Gathering Rage: The Failure of Twentieth Century Revolutions to

Develop a Feminist Agenda. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1993.

Rodriguez, Luis J. Poems across the Pavement. Chicago: Chucha Press, 1989.

Sanchez, Sonia. Home Girls and Hand Grenades. New York: Thunder's
Mouth Press, 1984.

. Under a Soprano Sky. Trenton, N.J.: Africa World Press, 1987.

Whiteman, Roberta Hill. Star Quilt. Duluth: Holy Cow! Press, 1984.

Wong, Nellie. Dreams in Harrison Railroad Park. Berkeley, Calif: Kelsey
Street Press, 1978.
. The Death of Long Steam Lady. Albuquerque, N.M.: West End
Press, 1986.

Many of the small-press editions mentioned here can be ob-
tained through Small Press Distribution Inc., 18 14 San Pablo
Avenue, Berkeley CA 94702 (telephone: 510-549-3336). SPD
issues a semiannual catalogue of the new work from small
presses, much of it poetry, with reviews-in-brief.

I am deeply in debt to the poets whose words appear in this

book, and to the many others whose work is here in spirit be-
cause it has given me courage and hope. In particular, I am
indebted to two pieces of witness by poets: Muriel Rukeyser's
The Life of Poetry, written at mid-century soon after the end of
World War II, and Audre Lorde's "Poetry Not a Luxury,"

written in the women's liberation movement of the 1970s.
These are as alive as ever and deserve to be read by anyone who
reads, or writes, poems, or who Hstens for voices from the past

that can speak to the future.

I am grateful to Elly Bulkin, Hayden Carruth, Jane Cooper,
and Minnie Bruce Pratt for their critical and sensitive readings of
drafts of this book. I thank Miranda Bergman, Enid Dame, Mi-
chele Gibbs, and Helen Smelser for work shared and for their
responses to parts of the manuscript. Ellen Farmer and Dianna
Williamson, always generous and flexible, turned my typescripts
into fmal copy.
I have had three fme editors at W. W. Norton & Company:
the late John Benedict, who gave his blessing to an early draft of
278 I

this book; the late Barry K. Wade, whose finely tuned sensibility
and gifted editing I knew all too briefly; and Julia A. Reidhead,
who has carried on with care and skill.

During my many years with Norton I have been fortunate to
depend on Carol Flechner's keen mind and high standards of
editing in preparing my manuscripts for publication. I have been
equally fortunate in Antonina Krass's fme book designs, Debra
Morton Hoyt's elegant jackets, and Andrew Marasia's meticu-

lous attention to every detail of production. And, in the difficult

and sorrowful period of Barry Wade's illness and after, Anna
Karvellas has been a steady and active editorial liaison.
I thank here the many people, known and unknown to me,
who help build the movements open new space for the

Finally, this book and I owe much to seventeen years of con-
versation with Michelle Cliff.
Anna Akhmatova: The selection from "Poem without a Hero" by Anna
Akhmatova, translated by Judith Hemschemeyer, is reprinted from The

Complete Poems ofAnna Akhmatova (second edition, 1992) with the permis-
sion of Zephyr Press and Canongate Press. Translations copyright © 1990,
1992 by Judith Hemschemeyer.

Francisco X. Alarcon: Sonnets "IV" and "XIV" by Francisco X. Alar-
con. From his De amor oscuro/Of Dark Love. Copyright © 1991 by Fran-
cisco X. Alarcon. Reprinted by permission of Moving Parts Press.

Gloria Anzaldua: From Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. ©
1987 by Gloria Anzaldua. Reprinted with permission from Aunt Lute

Margaret Atwood: From "Circe/Mud Poems," Selected Poems 1 963-1 g73
by Margaret Atwood. Copyright © 1976 by Margaret Atwood. Reprinted
by permission of Houghton Mifflin Co. All rights reserved. From You Are

Happy © MargaretAtwood 1974. Reprinted by permission of Oxford
University Press Canada. From You Are Happy, copyright © 1974 by Mar-
garet Atwood. By permission of Harper & Row Publishers.

W. H. Auden: From W. H. Auden: Collected Poems by W. H. Auden,
edited by Edward Mendelson. Copyright 1940 and renewed 1968 by
W. H. Auden. Reprinted by permission of Random House, Inc. From
Collected Poems by W. H. Auden, edited by Edward Mendelson. Reprinted
28o I
Permissions Acknowledgments

by permission of Faber & Faber. From A Change of World by Adrienne
Rich, 195 1. Reprinted by permission of Adrienne Rich.

Jimmy Santiago Baca: From Immigrants in Our Own Land, copyright ©
1982 by Jimmy Santiago Baca. Reprinted by permission of New Direc-
tions PubHshing Corporation. From Working in the Dark: Reflections of a
Poet of the Barrio by Jimmy Santiago Baca, pubHshed by Red Crane Books.
Reprinted by permission of Red Crane Books.

Miranda Bergman: Excerpt, letter to Adrienne Rich, reprinted by per-
mission of Miranda Bergman.

Elizabeth Bishop: "Chemin de Fer" from The Complete Poems 1927-1979
by Elizabeth Bishop. Copyright © 1979, 1983 by Alice Helen Methfessel.
Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc.

William Blake: From The Poetry and Prose of William Blake, edited by
David Erdman, pubHshed by Doubleday- Anchor, 1970.

DiONNE Brand: © 1990 Dionne Brand. Reprinted from No Language Is

Neutral by permission of Coach House Press.

Kamau Brathwaite: Reprinted by permission of Bloodaxe Books Ltd
from Middle Passages by Kamau Brathwaite (Bloodaxe Books, 1992).

Karen Brodine: Reprinted from Illegal Assembly © 1980 by Karen Bro-
dine, by permission of Hanging Loose Press.

Hayden Carruth: Excerpt, letter from Hayden Carruth to Adrienne
Rich, 6 April 1992. Permission to reprint granted by Hayden Carruth.

Aime Cesaire: From "On the State of the Union" in Aime Cesaire: Col-

lected The University of
Poetry, trans./ed. by Eshleman, Smith, published by

California Press. Copyright © 1983 The Regents of The University of

California. Reprinted by permission of The University of CaHfomia Press.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge: From The Letters of Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
edited by E. L. Griggs, 1956, vol. I. By permission of Oxford University

Hart Crane: The lines from "Van Winkle" are reprinted from The Poems
of Hart Crane, edited by Marc Simon, by permission of Liveright Publish-
ing Corporation. Copyright © 1986 by Marc Simon.
Permissions Acknowledgments |

Emily Dickinson: From The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited by
Thomas H.Johnson. Copyright 1929 by Martha Dickinson Bianchi; copy-
right © renewed 1957 by Mary L. Hampson. By permission of Little,

Brown and Company.

Robert Duncan: From Bending the Bow, copyright © 1968 by Robert
Duncan. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corpo-

Florence Crane Women's Prison: From INSIGHT: Serving the Women
of Florence Crane Women's Facility, reprinted by permission of Jacqueline
Dixon-Bey and Mary Glover. Konuict Kitchen excerpt by Gloria Bolden.

Lynn Emanuel: From "The Planet Krypton" in The Dig by Lynn Eman-
uel, published by the University of Illinois Press, copyright © 1992. Re-
printed by permission of The University of Illinois Press. "The Planet
Krypton" was first published in the Kenyon Review.

Suzanne Gardinier: "To Peace" is reprinted from The New World, by
Suzanne Gardinier, by permission of the University of Pittsburgh Press. ©
1993 hy Suzanne Gardinier. The poem beginning "Here is Soot" is from
the poem sequence entitled "To the City of Fires" and is reprinted from
The New World, by Suzanne Gardinier, by permission of the University of
Pittsburgh Press. © 1993 by Suzanne Gardinier.

Diane Glancy: Reprinted from Claiming Breath by Diane Glancy, by
permission of the University of Nebraska Press. © 1992 by the University
of Nebraska Press.

Paul Goodman: Excerpts from Speaking and Language: A Defence of Poetry
by Paul Goodman, Random House, 1971. Reprinted by permission of
Sally Goodman.

Nadine Gordimer: Selections by Nadine Gordimer reprinted by permis-
sion of Nadine Gordimer.

Judy Grahn: "A Woman Is Talking to Death" from The Work of a Com-
mon Woman, Copyright 1978 by Judy Grahn, published by The Crossing
Press, Freedom, California.

John Haines: Reprinted with permission of the pubHsher from In the
Forest without Leaves, New Poems: ig8o-88. Story Line Press, 1990,

PP- 79-93-
282 I
Permissions Acknowledgments

Joy Harjo: Reprinted from In Mad Love and War, © 1990 by Joy Harjo,
Wesleyan University Press. By permission of University Press of New

Michael S. Harper: The poem beginning "When there is no history" is

reprinted from Song: I Want a Witness, by Michael S. Harper, by permis-
sion of the University of Pittsburgh Press. © 1972 by Michael S. Harper.

Seamus Heaney: From The Haw Lantern by Seamus Heaney. Reprinted
by permission of Faber & Faber. Excerpt from "From the Canton of Ex-
pectation" from Selected Poems 1966-1987 by Seamus Heaney. Copyright ©
1990 by Seamus Heaney. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and
Giroux, Inc.

June Jordan: From Things That I Do in the Dark: Selected Poems and Civil
Wars, reprinted by permission of the poet, June Jordan. From the book.
Naming Our Destiny by June Jordan. Copyright © 1989 by June Jordan.
Used by permission of the publisher, Thunder's Mouth Press; United
Kingdom and British Columbia rights granted by the poet, June Jordan.
From Moving towards Home by June Jordan, copyright © by June Jordan,
198 1, 1985, 1989. Published by Virago Press Ltd. 1989.

Galway Kinnell: Excerpt from "The Bear," from Body Rags by Galway
Kinnell. Copyright © 1965, 1966, 1967 by Galway Kinnell. Reprinted by
permission of Houghton Mifflin Co. All rights reserved.

Irena Klepfisz: From Dreams of an Insomniac: Jewish Feminist Essays,
Speeches and Diatribes by Irena Klepfisz (Portland, Ore.: The Eighth Moun-
tain Press, 1990); © by Irena Klepfisz; reprinted by permission of the
author and publisher. From A Few Words in the Mother Tongue: Poems
Selected and New igyi-iggo by Irena Klepfisz (Portland, Ore.: The Eighth
Mountain Press, 1990); © by Irena Klepfisz; reprinted by permission of the
author and publisher.

Him Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Young: From Island: Poetry and
History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, igio-1940, edited by Him
Mark Lai, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung, published by the University of
Washington Press, copyright © 1991. Reprinted by permission of the
University of Washington Press.

Audre Lorde: © 1984 by Audre Lorde, from "Poetry Is Not a Luxury" in

Sister Outsider, published by The Crossing Press, Freedom, CA 95019.
Permissions Acknowledgments |

Reprinted by permission of The Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. "A
Family Resemblance" is reprinted from Undersong: Chosen Poems Old and
New, Revised Edition, by Audre Lorde, by permission of W. W. Norton
& Company, Inc. Copyright © 1992, 1982, 1976, 1974, 1973, 1970, 1968
by Audre Lorde. "Power" is reprinted from The Black Unicorn: Poems by
Audre Lorde, by permission of W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. and The
Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency. Copyright © 1978 by Audre Lorde.
Copyright ©
1993 The Estate of Audre Lorde. First published by W. W.
Norton & Company, 1992. By permission of Virago Press Ltd.

Thomas McGrath: Selections from "Ordonnance" from Selected Poems,

igj8-ig88. Copyright © 1988 by Thomas McGrath. Used by permission of
Copper Canyon Press, P.O. Box 271, Port Townsend, WA 98368.
Claude McKay: By permission of Archives of Claude McKay, Carl
Cowl, Administrator. From Selected Poems of Claude McKay (Harcourt
Brace Jovanovich, 198 1).

W. S. Merwin: © 1967 by W. S. Merwin. From "Caesar" which appears
in The Lice. Reprinted by permission of Georges Borchardt, Inc.

David Mura: From "Notes for a New Poem," which first appeared in
Boston Review April 1989. Copyright David Mura. Reprinted by permis-
sion of David Mura.

Ordinary Women: Selections from Ordinary Women, published by Ordi-
nary Women Books, 1978. Reprinted by permission of Sara Miles.

Minnie Bruce Pratt: Selections from "For My Sons," "Justice, Come
Down," "The Child Taken from the Mother," "The First Question,"
"Dreaming a Few Minutes in a Different Element," "Shame," "At Fif-
teen, the Oldest Son Comes to Visit," "All the Women Caught in Flaring

Light," and "Seven Times Going, Seven Times Coming Back" from
Crime against Nature by Minnie Bruce Pratt, pubHshed by Firebrand Books,
Ithaca, New York. Copyright © 1990 by Minnie Bruce Pratt. Reprinted
by permission of Firebrand Books. Selections from "Reading Maps:
Three" from We Say We Love Each Otherhy Minnie Bruce Pratt, published
by Spinsters/Aunt Lute, 1985. Reprinted by permission of Firebrand
Books, Ithaca, New York. "Romance" by Minnie Bruce Pratt from The
Sound of One Fork, copyright 1981 by Minnie Bruce Pratt. Reprinted by
permission of Minnie Bruce Pratt.
284 I
Permissions Acknowledgments

Muriel Rukeyser: From Willard Gibbs, © Muriel Rukeyser, 1988, Ox
Bow Press, Woodbridge, Connecticut, by permission of William L.

Rukeyser. From "Letter to the Front" ("To Be a Jew") by Muriel Rukey-
ser, from Out of Silence, 1992, TriQuarterly Books, Evanston, Illinois, ©
William L. Rukeyser. "Reading Time: i Minute 26 Seconds" and "Hom-
age to Literature" from Collected Poems, igyS, McGraw-Hill, New York,
© Muriel Rukeyser, by permission of William L. Rukeyser.

Wallace Stevens: From The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens by Wallace
Stevens. Reprinted by permission of Faber & Faber. From Collected Poems
by Wallace Stevens, copyright 1954 by Wallace Stevens. Reprinted by
permission of Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

Allen Tate: Excerpt from "Sonnets at Christmas" from Collected Poems
igig-igyd by Allen Tate. Copyright © 1977 by Allen Tate. Reprinted by
permission of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.

Leon Trotsky: From Art and Revolution by Leon Trotsky, copyright ©
1970 by Pathfinder Press. Reprinted by permission of Pathfinder Press.

Derek Walcott: From Midsummer by Derek Walcott. Reprinted by per-
mission of Faber &: Faber. "XLI" from Midsummer by Derek Walcott.
Copyright © 1984 by Derek Walcott. Reprinted by permission of Farrar,
Straus and Giroux, Inc.

William Carlos Williams: From The Collected Poems of William Carlos
Williams, igjg-ig62, vol. II. Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Wil-
liams. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corpora-
tion and Carcanet Press Limited.
Ind e X

"Aborting" (Kanazawa), 176-77 as visual artists, 50—53, 242
Academy of American Poets, 160-63 see also racism
activism, 20-21, 42, 48-49, 57 African culture, 7, 222
see also African-Americans Africanism, 205, 264
Adorno, Theodor, 141 "Against" (Baca), 1 19-21
African-Americans Agrarians, 149, 188
as activists, 24, 59, 68, 167 "Ahora" (Esteves), 177

daily life of, 64, 102-3, 1 19, 203, AIDS
229-30 Poets for Life (anthology), 3
justice for, 17, 64-70 quilt, 106
as poets, 38, 68, 86, 128-30, 168, "Air without Incense" (Rich), 194
173, 219-20, 222-23, 239 Akhmatova, Anna, 116, 124
racism against, 6o«, 64 ff., 181-85, "Poem without a Hero," 104-5
187-89 Alarcon, Francisco X., De Amor
and rap, 81 Oscuro/Of Dark Love, ii^-is
violence against, 15, 17, 67-68, alcohol, 77-78
171, 181-82 Algarin, Miguel, 37-38
1 1

2 86 Index

"All of us part. You move off in a arsenals for profit, 60-61
separate ..." (Klepfisz), 143 see also war
"All the Women Caught in Flaring art

Light" (Pratt), 154-55 background and, 5 1 , 207, 23
"All this is thenceforth to be thought committed and engaged, 46-47,
or done by you whoever you 51
are . .
." (Whitman), 91 community in, 52, 86
Alta, 174 levels in, 51-52
Alva Myrdal: A Daughter's Memoir revolution and, 44-47
(Bok), 254 Art and Revolution (Trotsky), 44-47
Amazon Poetry (anthology), 174 artists' colonies, 23
Amazon Quarterly (journal), 174 Art of Elizabeth Catlett, The (Lewis),
American Academy and Institute of 254
Arts and Letters, 161 "Asleep at the Switch" (poem), 80
American Indians, 63, 72, 1 18-19, "Asphodel, That Greeny Flower"
179 (Williams), ix
nuclear fallout and, 89 "As Time Goes By" (song), 187

poetry and, 129-30, 139, 206, 237, "At Fifteen, the Oldest Son Comes
238, 247-48 to Visit" (Pratt), 157-58
political, artistic, and intellectual Attica prison revolt, 265
movements of, 237, 247-248 Atwood, Margaret, 168
and spirituality, 7-8 "Circe/Mud," 173-74
violence against, 15, 91, 95, Auden, W. H., 191
247-48 "In Memory of W. B. Yeats,"
and woman as betrayer, 209 192-93, 263
American hfe, 118-23 "Auroras of Autumn, The"
American language, 179-80 (Stevens), 204

"And Rip forgot the office avant-garde, 225-27, 265
hours ..." (Crane), 37 Azalea (journal), 174
Angel Island, 258
Angelou, Maya, 252 Baca, Jimmy Santiago
"Annabel Lee" (Poe), 80 "Against," 11 9-21
antiestablishment poetry, 167-68 Working in the Dark: Reflections of a
Anzaldua, Gloria, Borderlands/La Poet of the Barrio, 207-9
Frontera: The New Mestiza, Baldwin, James, 25
139, 209-11, 260 "Bashert" (Klepfisz), 138-40
Aphra (journal), 174 "Bear, The" (Kinnell), xi

Aquash, Anna Mae Pictou, 247-48 Beat poetry, 262
Arendt, Hannah, Men in Dark Times, Bell, Marvin, 261
259 Bending the Bow (Duncan), 167, 261
arms race, 59—61 Benny, Jack, 187
see also war Bercano, Nancy, 160

Bergman, Miranda, 254 Brathwaite, Kamau, 116
Berryman, John, 77 poem on assasination of Walter
Best Loved Poems of the American Rodney, 242-47
People (book), 30 Brecht, Bertolt, 47
Beyond the Limit: Poems Bridge, The (Crane), 37
(Ratushinskaya), 251-52 Brodine, Karen, 174
Bible, 62-63, 129, 194 "June 78," 14
bilingual poetry, 140-41 Browning, Elizabeth Barrett, 190
biographies Bruining, Mi Ok, 38
by Rukeyser, 97—99 brutality, patterns of, 60
of poets, 133 Burgos, Bruce L., 38
Whitman on, 93 Byrd, Stephanie, 174
Bishop, Elizabeth, 77
"Chemin de Fer," 55-56 "Caesar" (Merwin), 15
Blacks. See African-Americans "The camps hold their
Blake, William, 116, 190 distance —brown chestnuts
"Songs of Innocence," and gray smoke" (Walcott),
182-83 220-21, 265
"Tyger, Tyger, burning canned music, 81
bright . . .
," 182, 262 Can Poetry Matter? (Gioia), 253
Bly, Robert, Selected Poems, 30 capitalism, xiv-xv, 42
Bok, Sissela, Aha Myrdal: A abridgment of freedom and, 42
Daughter's Memoir, 254 format and, 218
Bolden, Gloria, 75-76 imagination and, 18, 39, 86, 125
bomb testing, 87-89 kitsch and, 187
Book of Common Prayer, 194 lies and, 162
"The book of moonlight is not market economy and, xv, 238
written yet ..." (Stevens), power and, 218
201 self-help and, 233
Books in Chains: Chain Bookstores and technology and, 86
Marketplace Censorship weapons and, 59—61
(Luxenberg), 252 see also economics
bookstores, 30-31, 36, 252 Carruth, Hayden, 62
border history, 211 "Fragments of Autobiography,"
borderland poems, 139 253
Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Castellanos, Rosario, 116
Mestiza (Anzaldua), 139, Cadett, Ehzabeth, 50-52
209-1 1 , 260 Cato, 159
Anne, 130
Bradstreet, censorship, 18-20
Brand, Dionne, 116 in distribution, 28-31, 252
No Language Is Neutral, 249 format and, 218
Brant, Beth, 7-8, 251 of poets, 18-19, 34-35, 253
1 , 1

288 Index

censorship (cont'd) Clarke, Cheryl, 38
in Soviet Union, 19, 124-25 classics, 62-63, 1-29. 255
see also individual countries Clausen, Jan, 174
Century of Dishonor, A (Jackson), Chff, Michelle, 254, 265
95-96 Clingman, Stephen, 252
Cesaire, Aime, 116, 239 Cocktail Party, The (EUot), 193
"On the State of the Union," 14, Coe, Sue, 242
17 Cold War, xiii-xiv

chain bookstores, 28-31, 252 Coleridge, Samuel Taylor, 43, 159,
Change of World, A (Rich), 263 253
Chekhov, Anton, Sakhalin Journals Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens
25 (Stevens), 30, 121-22,

"Chemin de Fer" (Bishop), 55-56 I 97-202
Mary Boykin, 159
Chestnut, collective repression, 106

Chiang, Fay, 174 collectivity in art, 44, 49-51
Ordinary Women: An Anthology of Columbus, Christopher, 237
Poetry by New York City "Comedian As the Letter C, The"
Women, 175-80 (Stevens), 200
Chicanos, 26, 207-1 Coming Home: Peace without
children Complacency (Randall), 252
of Communist families, 78-79 committed art, 46-47
of Holocaust survivors, 78-79 commodities, 16, 29, 133, 162

with lesbian mothers, 146-47, communal poetry, 164-65
150-63 Gibbs on, 53
mothers and sons, 145-46 indigenous people's movements
passing on history to, 78-82 and, 130, 228, 237
violence and, 15 women's movement and, 167-80
Children of the Holocaust: Conversations communications, control of, 15

with Sons and Daughters of Communism, 46, 237
Survivors (Epstein), 78-79 Communist families, 78-79
"Child Taken from the Mother, Complete Poetry and Collected Prose
The" (Pratt), 151 (Whitman), 93, 256
Chile, censorship in, 19, 34-35, 253 consumerism, 39, 162
Christianity, 100, 193-94, 257 see also capitalism

Chrystos, 163, 261 "Contexts" (Klepfisz), 142

Not Vanishing, 130, 260 Corn, Alfred, 261
"Circe/Mud" (Atwood), 173-74 corporate power, fear of poetry and,
City of Night (Rechy), 210 125
civil disobedience, 57-59, 61 corridos, 210-1
Civil Wars (Jordan), 216, 264 Crane, Hart, 77, 116
Claiming Breath (Glancy), 84, 206, "And Rip forgot the office
211-13, 256, 264 hours ..." (Crane), 37
Index 289

creation "On my volcano grows the
happiness in, 49-50 Grass . . .
," 93
space for, 1 10 "Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry in

Crime against Nature (Pratt), 147, America, The" (Jordan), 128,
150-63 222-23
critic, task of, 116 Dionne Quintuplets, 185
cultural ancestry, war epics as, 63 di Prima, Diane, 168
culture, European, 229 "Di rayze aheym" (Klepfisz), 128-29,

Dalton, Roque, 116 disarmament, 57-61
Dame, Enid, 174, 262 see also war
Dario, Ruben, 47, 116 "Dissonant Triad, A" (Vendler),

De Amor Oscuro (Alarcon), 223-25 108, 257
"death camp" (Klepfisz), 136-37 distribution, censorship in, 28-31,

"Death of the Ball-Turret Gunner, 252
The" Qarrell), 48 Dixon-Bey, Jacqueline, et al., "This
Debord, Guy, 83 is prison not the Hilton . . .

"Deep in the Heart of Texas" 76-77
(song), 187 documentary fact, poetry of, 21, 69
de la Cruz, Sor Juana Ines, 1 16 Donne, John, 1 16
Delaware Big House Ceremony, "Don't Get Around Much
63 Anymore" (song), 187

Delicacy and Strength of Lace, The: "Don't Sit under the Apple Tree"
Letters (Silko and Wright), (song), 187

179-80, 262 "Dreaming a Few Minutes in a

Deming, Barbara, 57-61 Different Element" (Pratt),
Prisons That Could Not Hold: Prison 157
Notes, 25, 255 drinking as poetic fate. See alcohol
We Cannot Live without Our Lives, Dropkin, Celia, 133
254 "Dry Loaf (Stevens), 201

der khurbn, 131-33 Du Bois, W. E. B., The Souls of Black
Derricotte, Toi, 175 Folk, 260
desires uncovered by poems, 12-13 Duchess ofMalfy (Webster), 9-10
despair, national, 15-18, 162 Dumas, Henry, 239
see also public emptiness "Dumping: A New Form of
Diana Press, 174 Genocide?" (Sloan), 119, 258

Dickinson, Emily, 90—96, 233 "Du musst dein Leben dndern"
Final Harvest, 30 (Rilke), 190-91

"He ate and drank the precious Dunayevskaya, Raya, 234
Words — . . .
," 92 Duncan, Robert, 166-67
"I tie my —
Hat I crease my Bending the Bow, 167, 261
Shawl — . . .
," 94-95 Dunne, Irene, 187

290 Index

"during the war . .
." (Klepfisz), Ehot, T. S., 99, 194
131-32 Cocktail Party, IJie, 193

"The Dwarf" (Stevens), 201 Four Quartets, 193
Waste Land, The, 193
economics Ellman, Richard, The Norton
and the arms race, 59 Anthology of Modern Poetry,
and commoditizing, 18, 29 100, 257
and conversion of wealth, Emanuel, Lynn, "The Planet
xiii-xiv, 61 Krypton," 87-89
and corporate power, xv, 39, 125, emigration, inner, 122, 259

253 "Endymion" (Keats), 182, 262
creativity and, 40-41, 42, 46, 51, "En el bote del county ." . .

142-43 (Rodriguez), 117, 258
labor and, 48, 203, 242 English vs. American language,
maldistribution of opportunity 179-80
and, 23 Epstein, Helen, Children of the
marketing and, 18, 36, 39 Holocaust: Conversations with

mass production and, 29 Sons and Daughters of
means of production and, 98 Survivors, 78-79
"new world order" and, 46 "Essential Gesture, The"
as objective discipline, 121 (Gordimer), 265-66
patterns of distribution and, 31, Esteves, Sandra Maria

231,252 "Ahora," 177
and poverty, 89, 108, 109-10, Ordinary Women: An Anthology of
236 Poetry by New York City
and profits from violence, 61 Women, 175-80
and technocracy, 250 "Visiting," 177-78
tourism and, 228-34 ''Etlekhe verter oyf mame-loshenj h. few
of U.S., concept of perpetual war words in the mother tongue"
and, 235 (Klepfisz), 140

and wealth, 119, 122 European culture, 229
and working-class poets, 169, 171, Evans, EH, The Provincials: A Personal

195,207-13 History ofJews in the South,

"World of Tomorrow" (1939) 23, 252
and, 186-87
see also capitalism; socialism; time "Family Resemblance, A" (Lorde),

education, 32-33 168-69
of Anzaldua, 209-11 Fanon, Frantz, 25
of Baca, 207-9 fantasies, national, 122, 259
of Glancy, 211-13 feehngs as commodities, xiv, 16

of Rich, 182-96 Feriinghetti, Lawrence, 175
EfFie's Press, 174 Ferry, David, 198
Index I

Few Words, A (Klepfisz), 131-38 Gibbs, Willard, biography of, 97-99
"few words in the mother tongue, Ginsberg, Allen, 175
A" (Klepfisz), 140 "Kaddish," 262
Final Harvest (Dickinson), 30 Gioia, Dana, Can Poetry Matter? 253
Firebrand Books, 160 "Girl from the realm of birds florid
First Cities, The (Lorde), 168-69 and fleet ..." (Jordan), 223
"First Question, The" (Pratt), Glancy, Diane, Claiming Breath, 84,
151-52 206, 211-13, 256, 264
Five Nations of the Iroquois, 63 Glover, Mary, et al., "This is prison
"For Anna Mae Pictou Aquash" not the Hilton . . .
," 76-77
(Harjo), 247-48 Gold Dust Twins, 185
format and form, 49-50, 217-27 Goodeve, Thyrza, "Watching for

"For Michael Angelo Thompson" What Happens Next," 256
(Jordan), 64-68 Goodman, Paul, Speaking and
"For My Sons" (Pratt), 153 Language: A Defence of Poetry,
Four Quartets (Eliot), 193 217-18, 225-27
"Fradel Schtok" (Klepfisz), 140-41 Gorbanevskaya, Natalya, persecution
"Fragments of Autobiography" of, 19
(Carruth), 253 Gordimer, Nadine, 28, 252
Fraser, Kathleen, 174 "The Essential Gesture," 265-66
Frederick, Charles, 38 government
"free" enterprise, poetry and, 18 censorship by, 18-20, 34-35,
see also capitalism 124-25
free verse, 218 suppression by, 161-63
"From the Canton of Expectation" values in, 108
(Heaney), 238-40, 266-67 Grahn,Judy, 174
Frost, Robert, 190 "Woman Is Talking to Death, A,"
frozen metaphors, 204, 263 169-72
Fugitives, 149, 188 Graubard, Stephen, 236-37, 266
Gray, Dorothy Randall, 38
Gardinier, Suzanne Greece, censorship in, 19
"To Peace," 61-63 Grenada invasion, 59
"To the City of Fire," 240-41 Griffin, Susan, 174
"Two Cities: On 'The Iliad,' Guido de Vries, Rachel, 38
63-64, 255 Gulf War. See Persian Gulf War
gay poetry, 37-38, 167
Germany, inner emigration in, 259 Hacker, Marilyn, 174
Gibbs,Joan, 174 Haines, John
Gibbs, Michele, 52-53, 242 "Hole in the Bucket, The," no,
Homecoming for Mandela, 239 257
"New World Furrows," 238-39 "In the Forest without Leaves,"
Phoenix Rising, 239 111-15
292 Index

Hall, Donald, 255 see also Klepfisz, Irena; Klepfisz,

Hammarskjold, Dag, 61 Michal
Hariot, Thomas, biography of, "Homage to Literature" (Rukeyser),

97-98 116
Harjo,Joy, "For Anna Mae Pictou homeless people, 109-10
Aquash," 247-48 Homer, Iliad, 62-63
Harper, Michael S., 116 Hope against Hope (Mandelstam),
"Song: I Want a Witness," 235 123, 124, 127,259
Havel, Vaclav, "The Power of the Hopkins, Gerald Manley, "No
Powerless," 160, 162 worst, there is none. Pitched
Heaney, Seamus, "From the Canton past pitch of grief . . .
," 219
of Expectation," 238-40, "The house was quiet and the world
266-67 was calm ..." (Stevens),
"He ate and drank the precious 10-12
Words — ..." (Dickinson), How Am I to Be Heard? (Smith), 254
92 How Green Was My Valley (motion
Helms, Jesse, 161, 261 picture), 187

Hemingway, Ernest, 207 "How they are provided for upon
Henry K (Shakespeare), 220 the earth (appearing at
Heresies (journal), 174 intervals) ..." (Whitman),
Hernandez, Ines, "An Open Letter 90-91
to Chicanas on the Power Hugo, Richard, 77
and Politics of Origin," 236 Tlie Triggering Town: Lectures and
Hikmet, Nazim, 18-19 Essays on Poetry and Writing,
history 219, 264
border, 211 "What Thou Lovest WeU
displacement and, 140-41 Remains American," 259
loss of continuity in, 78-82 human power (Marx), 49
national fantasies and, 122
poetry and, 141-44 I Am Joaquin (book), 210
of Warsaw Ghetto, 134-36 "Idea of Order at Key West, The"
Whitman on, 93 (Stevens), 199

See also Holocaust "Identity: Skin Blood Heart"
Hogan, Linda, 174 (Pratt), 159
"Hole in the Bucket, The" (Haines), /-KON (journal), 38
no, 257 Iliad (Homer), 62-64
Holocaust, 131-33 imagination
children of survivors, 78-79 failure of, 16, 17

poetry and, 141, 220-22 repression of, 125
survivors of, 1 3 8—42 immigrants
women in, 136-38 at Angel Island, 258
Index 293

persecution of, 19, 37, 253 Jewish history, 134, 143-44
as poets, 122, 227 see also Holocaust; Judaism;
Immortal Poems of the English Language Yiddish
(Williams), 30 Jewish life

Indians. See American Indians in America, 138-40, 221-22
Infante, Pedro, 210 Holocaust and, 131-33, 136-38
inherited wealth, 41 in South, 23

In Love and Trouble (Walker), in Warsaw Ghetto, 134
30 "Jewish Question, the," 23
"In Memory of W. B. Yeats" Jirous, Ivan, 261
(Auden), 192-93, 263 Jones, Patricia, 174
inner emigration, 122, 259 Ordinary Women: An Anthology of
INSIGHT: Serving theWomen of Poetry by New York City
Florence Crane Women 's Women, 175-80
Facility (newsletter), 77 Jordan, June, 116, 174
International Women's Poetry Civil Wars, 216, 264
Festival, 174 "Difficult Miracle of Black Poetry
"In the Forest without Leaves" in America, The," 128,
(Haines), 11 1-15 222-23
Iowa City Women's Press, 174 "For Michael Angelo
Island: Poetry and History of Chinese Thompson," 64-68
Immigrants on Angel Island "Girl from the realm of birds
(Lai, Lim, and Yung), florid and fleet . . .
," 223
116-17, 258 "Solidarity," 229-30
Islas, Arturo "Journey Home, The" (Klepfisz),

letter to, 22-27 128-29, 140
"On the Bridge, at the Border: Judaism, 221-22, 263
Migrants and Immigrants," "June 78" (Brodine), 14
252 "Justice, Come Down" (Pratt),

isolation, 57, 216 153-54
Israel, 143
"I tie my Hat — I my
crease "Kaddish" (Ginsberg), 262
Shawl — ..." (Dickinson), Kalevala, The, 64

94-95 Kanazawa, Teru, 174
"Aborting," 176-77
Jackson, Helen Hunt, A Century of Kaplan, Judy, Red Diaper Babies:
Dishonor, 95-96 Children of the Left, 78-79
Jarrell, Randall, "The Death of the Keats, John, 116, 190
Ball-Turret Gunner," 48 "Endymion," 182, 262
Jeffers, Robinson, 116 Kelsey Street Press, 174
Jemima, Aunt, 185, 204 khurbn, der, 131-33
h ,

294 Index

Kim, Willyce, 175 Lai, Him Mark, Island: Poetry and
Kingston, Maxine Hong, Tripmaster History of Chinese Immigrants
Monkey, 96 on Angel Island, 1 16-17, 258
Kinnell, Galway, "The Bear," xi Lamont Prize, 160-63
Klepfisz, Irena, 174 language
"All of us part. You move off in a English vs. American, 179-80
separate . . .
," 143 names and, 5-7
"Bashert," 138-40 standardized, 180
"Contexts," 142 violence and, 181-84
"death camp," 136-37 Yiddish, 131-34, 140-41
"Di rayze aheymlThe Journey Lanier, Sidney, 188
Home," 128-29, 140 Larkin,Joan, 174
"during the war . . .
," 131-32 Larsen, Thomas, "Uneasy
"'Etlekhe verier oyf mame-loshenj Confessions," 232-33, 266
few words in the mother "Lasca" (poem), 80
tongue," 140 Latin American Uterature, 26

Few Words, A, 131-38 Lawrence, Jacob, 242
"Fradel Schtok," 140-41 Leaves of Grass (Whitman), 63, 93
"Picking up the Pieces When We Leishman,J. B., 190-91
Don't Know What/Where Lemmon,Jack, 146
They Are," 78, 255 lesbian mothers, 146-47, 150-63

"Secular Jewish Identity: lesbian poetry, 146-53, 168
Yidishkayt in America," 131, erasure of, 261
260 mainstream and, 160-63
"These two: . . .
," 135-36 reading of, 3 7-3 8

"when they took us to the shower Letters of Wallace Stevens (Stevens)

isaw . . .
," 136-37 205, 264
"Work Sonnets," 142-43 "Letter to an Imaginary Friend"
Klepfisz, Michal, 134 (McGrath), 195
knowledge needed by poets, 214-16 "Letter to the Front" (Rukeyser),
Kollwitz, Kathe 221-22
Begging Woman and Child, 154 Levertov, Denise, 166
Mother Pressing Infant to Her Face, "Some Notes on Organic Form,"
154 49-50, 254
Peasant Woman Holding Child, 154 Levi, Jan Heller, A Muriel Rukeyser
Sleeping Woman with Child, 154 Reader, 100, 257
Woman with Dead Child, 154 Lewis, SameUa, The Art of Elizabeth
"Konvict Kitchen" (newsletter Catlett, 254
column), 75-76 Lezli-Hope, Akua, "To Every Birth
Kropotkin, Peter, Memoirs of a Its Pain," 178-79
Revolutionist, 43-44 Life of Poetry, The (Rukeyser), xi, 97,

Ku KluxKlan, 181, 189 126, 195, 235, 256, 259
Index 295

Lights, Rikki, 174 mall bookstores, 28-31, 252
Lim, Genny, Island: Poetry and managed spectacles, 83-86
History of Chinese Immigrants Mandelstam, Nadezhda, Hope against

on Angel Island, 1 16-17, 258 Hope, 123, 124, 127, 259
Lin, Maya, 106 Mandelstam, Osip, 116
Little Black Sambo, 185 "Ode to Stalin," 124, 259
Littlest Rebel The (motion picture), persecution of, 19
185 manipulation in poetry, 33, 84-85
Lorde, Audre, 116, 158, 163, 174, "Man with the Blue Guitar, The"
261 (Stevens), 198
works of Margolin, Anna, 133
"Family Resemblance, A," market economy. See capitalism
168-69 Marx, Karl, 46, 49, 238
First Cities, The, 168-69 mass markets, 20, 29, 36
"Poetry Is Not a Luxury," xi, mass media, violence and, 15, 60
126-27, 215, 232, 236-37, Matthiessen, F. O., 193
259 Mejia, Miguel Aceves, 210
"Power," 68-71 Memoirs of a Revolutionist
Sister Outsider: Essays and (Kropotkin), 43-44
Speeches, 255 Mendoza, Lydia, 211
lost poets, 215 Men in Dark Times (Arendt), 259
love Meridian (Walker), 54
activism and, 55-68 Merrill, James, 56n, 254
politics and, 23 Merwin, W. S., "Caesar," 15
Lowell, Robert, 77 metaphors, frozen, 204, 263
Luxemburg, Rosa, 25 Mexicans, 210-11
Luxenberg, Stan, Books in Chains: as migrants, 25-26
Chain Bookstores and Miles, Sara, 174
Marketplace Censorship, 252 Ordinary Women: An Anthology of
Lytel, Andrew, 257 Poetry by New York City
Women, 175-80
McCarran- Walter Immigration and Millay, Edna St. Vincent, 190
Nationality Act, 37, 253 misprision, 107-8
McGrath, Thomas Missing (motion picture), 145-46
"Letter to an Imaginary Friend," Mistral, Gabriela, 116

195 Modern Screen (magazine), 187

"Ordonnance," 47-48 Mohawk Ritual of Condolence, 63
McKay, Claude, 116, 219-20, 265 Molodowsky, Kadia, 133
McPherson, Sandra, 261 Moore, Colleen, 185
"Mairzy Doats" (song), 187 Moore, Honor, 174
Malcolm X, 25, 265 Moraga, Cherrie, 174
Malintzin, 209 Morejon, Nancy, 116
296 Index

Morgan, Robin, 174 Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry,
Morrison, Toni, 205, 264 The (Ellman and O' Clair),
Sula, 102-3 100, 257
Motherroot (publisher), 174 Nosotros los pobres (motion picture),
mothers 210
apparently childless, 154 "Notes toward a Supreme Fiction"
lesbian, 146-47, 150-63 (Stevens), 263
sons and, 145-46 Not Vanishing (Chrystos), 130, 260
as subversive, 153 "Now grapes are plush upon the
Mountain Moving Day (anthology), vines. ..." (Stevens),

174 199-200
Moving Out (journal), 174 "No worst, there is none. Pitched
Mura, David, 121 past pitch of grief . .

Muriel Rukeyser Reader, A (Levi), (Hopkins), 219
100, 257 nuclear arms, 60
Myrdal, Alva, 60-61 nuclear bomb test, 87-89
Myrdal, Gunnar, 61 "Nudity at the Capitol" (Stevens),
names, 5-7, 140 "Nudity in the Colonies" (Stevens),

national fantasies, 122, 259 204
needs Nuyorican Poets Cafe, 37-39, 40
in poetry, 39
uncovered by poems, 12-13 Oakland Black Writers Guild, 265
Negrete, Jorge, 210 Oakland Women's Press Collective,
Nehru, Jaw^aharlal, 61 174
Nemerov, Howard, 207 Oasa, Ed, "Speaking the Changes:
"Neo-Formahsm: A Dangerous An Interview with Luis
Nostalgia" (Sadoff), 160, Rodriguez," 256
261 O' Clair, Robert, The Norton
nepantilism, 139 Anthology of Modern Poetry,
Neruda, Pablo, 116, 207 100, 257
censorship of, 19, 34-35, 253 "Ode to Stalin" (Mandelstam), 124,
revolutionary poems of, 47 259
New Left, 262 Of Dark Love (Alarcon), 223-25
"New World Furrows" (art exhibit), "Of Modem Poetry" (Stevens),
238-39 201-2
New York World's Fair, 186-87 Olds, Sharon, 158, 174
Nielsen, Aldon Lynn, 204, 263 "On a long voyage I travelled across

No Language Is Neutral (Brand), 249 the sea. ..." (anonymous),
No More Masks! (anthology), 174 116-17
nonviolent direct action. See civil One Hundred and One Famous Poems
disobedience (book), 30
Index 297

On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Persian Gulf War
Prose ig66-i978 (Rich), 251 as managed spectacle, 85

"On my volcano grows the profit from, 16, 102

Grass ..." (Dickinson), 93 revelations from, 59—60
"On the Bridge, at the Border: Photoplay (magazine), 187
Migrants and Immigrants" Pidgeon, Walter, 187
(Islas), 252 Piercy, Marge, 168, 174
"On the State of the Union" "Planet Krypton, The" (Emanuel),
(Cesaire), 14, 17 87-89
"Open Letter to Chicanas on the Poe, Edgar Allan, 188
Power and PoUtics of Origin, "Annabel Lee," 80
An" (Hernandez), 236 "Raven, The," 80
Ordinary Women: An Anthology of "Poem for My Sons" (Pratt), 156
Poetry by New York City "Poem without a Hero"
Women (Jones, Chiang, (Akhmatova), 104-5
Miles, and Esteves), poetic fate, drinking as, 77
175-80 Poetry Flash (journal), 253

"Ordonnance" (McGrath), 47-48 "Poetry Is Not a Luxury" (Lorde),
Orgy, The (Rukeyser), 97 xi, 126-27, 215, 232, 236-37,
Other Voice, The (Paz), 237-38 259
Out & Out Books (pubhsher), poetry readings, 35-39, 86, 253
174 Poetry Society of America, 161
Ovid, 159 Poet's Craft: Interviews from the "New
York Quarterly, ' The
Pablo Neruda: Absence and Presence (Packard), 97-98, 257
(Poirot), 253 Poets for Life (anthology), 30

Packard, William, The Poet's Craft: Poet's Press, 168
Interviews from the "New York Poirot, Luis, Pablo Neruda: Absence
Quarterly, " 97-98, 257 and Presence, 253
Palestinians, 143 political poetry
Panama invasion, 59 contempt for, 1

Parker, Pat, 174 and engagement, 46-47
Paz, Octavio, 116, 207 as propaganda, 47
The Other Voice, 237-38 sources of, 71
peace and plenty, 108-10 pohtics
as interval between wars, 63 definitions of, 23-25
peace dividend, xiii-xiv desire and, 100, 172

peace movement, 58-61 and finding relationship with
Peasant Woman Holding Child poetry, 21, 22
(Kollwitz), 154 love and, 23
Perloff, Marjorie, 263 in 1960s, 24-25
permanence of poetry, 214 poetry, science, and, 6-7
298 Index

politics (cont'd) "Poem for My Sons," 156
religion and, 194 "Reading Maps," 152
see also activism; Cold War; "Reading Maps: Three," 149,
Persian Gulf War; racism; 261
United women's
States; "Romance," 147-48
liberation movement "Segregated Heart, The," 152
Popol Vuh, 63 "Seven Times Going, Seven
Pound, Ezra, 99, 232 Times Coming Back," 155
"Sestina: Altaforte," 255 "Shame," 157
power, 63, 185 Sound of One Fork, The, 147-48,
corporate, 125 152
demoralizing, xv, 6 "Waulking Songs," 152
establishment and, 227 We Say We Love Each Other,
human, 49 147-49, 152
of language, 182-83, 218 prison, poetry in, 76-77, 117,
mass media and, 15, 20, 35-36, 85 1 19-21, 207
misprision of, 107 Prisons That Could Not Hold: Prison
in nature, 249-50 Notes (Deming), 25, 255
and nuclear bomb, 88-89 propaganda
of revolutionary art, 242 format and, 218
poetry as, 89, 191, 237 poems of, 47

"Power" (Lorde), 68-71 protest poems, 71
"Power of the Powerless, The" Provincials, The: A Personal History of

(Havel), 160, 162 Jews in the South (Evans), 23,
Pratt,Minnie Bruce, 174, 261 252
Lamont Prize awarded to, 160-63 pubHc emptiness, 78
works of see also despair, national

"All the Women Caught in pubHc space for poetry, 36-39
Flanng Light," 154-55
"At Fifteen, the Oldest Son racism
Comes to Visit," 157-58 at end of twentieth century, 17,
"Child Taken from the 64
Mother, The," 151 imagery of, 6o«, 185
Crime against Nature, 147, 150-63 imagination and, 188, 204-5
"Dreaming a Few Minutes in a language and, 183-84
Different Element," 157 metaphor and, 204-5
"First Question, The," 151-52 segregation and, 1
"For My Sons," 153 slavery and, 130, 260
"Identity: Skin Blood Heart," as white history, 181-82
159 see also African-Americans;
"Justice, Come Down," whiteness
153-54 radio, 9-12
Ind 299

Randall, Margaret, 19, 38 "Tourist and the Town, The,"
Coming Home: Peace without 229
Complacency, 252 Rilke, Rainer Maria, "Dm musst dein
Ransom, John Crowe, 149 Lehen dndernjYon have to
rap, 81 change your life," 190—91
Rastus, 185, 204 Ritsos, Yannis, 19
Ratushinskaya, Irina, 19 "Road of Life" (radio show), 187

Beyond the Limit: Poems, 251-52 Robinson, Bill "Bojangles," 185
"Raven, The" (Poe), 80 Rodney, Walter, 242-47
"Reading Maps" (Pratt), 152 Rodriguez, Luis J., 86
"Reading Maps: Three" (Pratt), 149, "En el bote del county . . .
," 1 17,
261 258
"Reading Time: i Minute 26 "Romance" (Pratt), 147-48
Seconds" (Rukeyser), "Romance of Helen Trent, The"
125-26 (radio show), 187

Rechy, John, City of Night, 210 Rose, Wendy, 175
reciting poetry, 80-8 Rukeyser, Muriel
Red Diaper Babies: Children of the Left on bringing life together, 158
(Kaplan and Shapiro), 78-79 on Dickinson, 94
religion as experimental, 195
Christianity, 100, 193-94, 257 on Judaism, 263
poetry and politics as phase of, 263 on kinds of poetry, 21
reformed Judaism, 263 Hfe of, 96-101
Remus, Uncle, 185 rediscovery of, 175
repression of imagination, 125 and triangulation of poetry,
See also censorship science, and politics, 251
responsibility, levels of, 51-52 works of
revolution "Homage to Literature," 116
American, 17 "Letter to the Front," 221-22
artand, 44-47 Life of Poetry, The, xi, 97, 126,

Dunayevskaya on, 234 195,235,256,259
Paz on, 237-38 Orgy, The, 97
poetics of, 238-50 "Reading Time: i Minute 26
poetry and, 43, 238 Seconds," 125-26
tragic necessity in, 58 Theory of Flight, 96, 100
Rexroth, Kenneth, 77, 175 Traces of Thomas Hariot, The, 97
Rich, Adrienne Willard Gibbs: American Genius,
"Air without Incense," 194 257
Change of World, A, 263
On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: "Sadly, I Usten to the sounds of
Selected Prose 1966-1978, insects and angry surf. ..."
251-52 (anonymous), 1 17
300 Index

Sadoff, Ira, "Neo-Fomialism: A Sherman, Susan, 38, 174
Dangerous Nostalgia," i6o, "She sang beyond the genius of the
261 sea" (Stevens), 199
Sakhalin Journals (Chekhov), 25 Silberg, Richard, 253

Sanchez, Sonia, 116, 174 Silko, Leshe Marmon, The Delicacy
San Francisco Renaissance, 167 and Strength of Lace: Letters,

schools 179-80, 262
classifications in, 100 Sinatra, Frank, 1 87
failure of, 32-33, 98, 236 singing, 81-82
poetry in, 35, 207, 218 Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches
Schtok, Fradel, 133, 140-41 (Lorde), 255
Schwartz, Delmore, 77 slave songs. See "Sorrow Songs"
Selected Poems, 105, 257 Sloan, Lester, "Dumping: A New
Schwarzkopf, Norman, 102 Form of Genocide?" 1 19,
science 258
names in, 5 Small Press Distribution, 273
poetry, politics, and, 6-7, 96-97 Smith, Lillian, 53, 254
Seale, Bobby, 265 "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes" (song),

Second Wave, The (journal), 174 187
"Secular Jewish Identity: Yidishkayt socialism
in America" (Klepfisz), 131, "death of," 45, 237
260 emergent art of, 240—50
"Segregated Heart, The" (Pratt), 152 original visions of, 45
segregation, 189 theories of art and, 44-45, 46, 47
see also racism see also revolution
Selected Poems (Bly), 30 solidarity, 50
Selected Poems (Schwartz), 105, 257 "Sohdarity" (Jordan), 229-30
self-help books, 30-31 "Some Notes on Organic Form"
Seneca Peace Encampment, 58 (Levertov), 49-50, 254
Senghor, Leopold-Sedar, 116 "Song: I Want a Witness" (Harper),
"Sestina: Altaforte" (Pound), 255 235
"Seven Times Going, Seven Times Song o/My5e//" (Whitman), 93, 256
Coming Back" (Pratt), 155 "Songs of Innocence" (Blake),
Sexton, Anne, 77 182-83
sexual crimes, 147, 150-63 "Sonnets at Christmas" (Tate),
Shakespeare, William, 30, 107, 220 188-89
"Shame" (Pratt), 157 "Sorrow Songs," 130, 260
Shameless Hussy Press, 174 Souls of Black Folk, The (Du Bois),
Shapiro, Linn, et al.. Red Diaper 260
Babies: Children of the Left, sound in poetry, 87

78-79 Sound of One Fork, The (Pratt),

Shelley, Percy Bysshe, 190 147-48, 152
Index 301

South, Jews in the, 23 Letters of Wallace Stevens, 205,

South Africa 264
Black writers in, 123 "Man with the Blue Guitar,
bookshops in, 252 The," 198
censorship in, 19 "Notes toward a Supreme
libraries in, 252 Fiction," 263

southern poetry, 149-50 "Now grapes are plush upon
Soviet Union, censorship in, 19, the vines. . . .
," 199-200
124-25 "Nudity at the Capitol," 204

Spacek, Sissy, 146 "Nudity in the Colonies," 204

Speaking and Language: A Defence of "Of Modem Poetry," 201-2
Poetry (Goodman), 217-18, "She sang beyond the genius of
225-27 the sea," 199
"Speaking the Changes: An "Throw away the lights, the
Interview with Luis J. definitions . . .
," 202
Rodriguez" (Oasa), 256 "Two at Norfolk," 204
spectacles, managed, 83-86 "Virgin Carrying a Lantern,
Spender, Stephen, 191 The," 204
spontaneity, of the masses, 25, 57 "Yellow Afternoon," 54
Stalin, Joseph, poems to, 124-25 storyteUing, 78-82

stardom, 39 suicide

state terrorism, 123, 248 National Suicide Day and, 103
Stein, Gertrude, 167 self-help books on, 102-3
Stemburg, Janet, The Writer on Her violence and, 103
Work, 96, 256 Sula (Morrison), 102-3
Stevens, Wallace, 11, 99, 196, suppression. See censorship
197-202, 263 Swinburne, Algernon, 190
racist configurations in, 204-5
works of "tango negro," 211
"Auroras of Autumn, The," 204 Tate, Allen, 149
"The book of moonlight is not "Sonnets at Christmas," 188-89
written yet . . .
," 201 technology, poetry and, 86
Collected Poems of Wallace television, violence and, 1

Stevens, 30, 121-22, 197-202 Temple, Shirley, 185

"Comedian As the Letter C, terrorism, state, 123, 248
The," 200 Tex-Mex music, 210
"Dry Loaf," 201 Theory of Flight (Rukeyser), 96, 100
"Dwarf, The," 201 "These two: . .
." (Klepfisz), 135-36
"The house was quiet and the "This is prison not the Hilton ..."
world was calm. . . .
," 10-12 (Dixon-Bey and Glover),
"Idea of Order at Key West, 76-77
The," 199 Thomas, Dylan, 77

3 02 Index

"Through me forbidden voices . . . "Tyger, Tyger, burning bright . .

(Whitman), 93 (Blake), 182, 262

"Throw away the Hghts, the
definitions ..." (Stevens), "Uneasy Confessions" (Larsen),
202 232-33, 266
Till, Emmett, murder of, 17 United States

time censorship in, 19—20, 161—63
anxiety about, 105—6 Cesaire on, 14
calendars and, 105 and collective amnesia and denial,
capitalism and, 42 17, 78, 106
as luxury, 41-42 criminal justice system of, 236
place and, 121-22 as democracy, 15, 21

for poetry, 41-42, 125-26 demoralization in, xiii

wasting, 42 despair and, forms of, 16-18,78, 103
workers' struggle for, 42 diverse cultures of, 130
"To Every Birth Its Pain" homeless people in, 109-10
(Lezli-Hope), 178-79 housing in, 1 18-19
"To Peace" (Gardinier), 61-63 idea of poetry as powerless in, xiv,
"To the City of Fire" (Gardinier), 18

240—41 movements for justice in, 20,

tourism, 228-34 24-25, 48-49, 57, 167, 180
"Tourist and the Town, The" national imagination in, 97
(Rich), 229 as native land, 5

Traces of Thomas Harlot, The poets and poetry in, 35, 36, 53, 83,

(Rukeyser) 97 , 96, 115, 125-25, 128-30,
Triggering Town, The: Lectures and 160-63, 222, 228-29,
Essays on Poetry and Writing 232-33,253
(Hugo), 219, 264 as tragic land, 14, 121—22

Trinidad, David, 38 values, 16, 108

Tripmaster Monkey (Kingston), 96 violence in, 15, 35, 64, 103
Trotsky, Leon, Art and Revolution, women's poetry movement in,

44-47 165, 167-80, 211-13, 262
Truedell, John, 248 Unwinding the Vietnam War: From
Truman, Harry, 253 War into Peace (Williams)

Tsui, Kitty, 174 106, 257
Tsvetaeva, Marina Ivanova, 116
Turkey, censorship in, 18-19 values, 16, 108, 162, 231

Tussman, Malka, 133 Vendler, Helen, "A Dissonant
twenty-first century, 102—6 Triad," 108, 257
"Two at Norfolk" (Stevens), 204 Vermont: A Guide to the Green
"Two Cities: On the 'Iliad' Mountain State (Federal

(Gardinier), 63-64, 255 Writers Project), 255
Index 303

Vietnam War memorial, 106 weapons, 59-61
Villa, Pancho, 211 see also war
violence Webster, John, Duchess ofMalfy,
against Blacks, 17 9-10
cult of, 60 We Cannot Live without Our Lives
depressiveness and, 1 (Deming), 254
language and, 61, 181-89 We Say We Love Each Other (Pratt),

spirit of, 63 147-49, 152
suicide and, 103 "What Thou Lovest Well Remains
see also state terrorism; war American" (Hugo), 259
Virgil, 62 Wheatley, Phillis, 130, 222-23
"Virgin Carrying a Lantern, The" "when they took us to the

(Stevens), 204 shower i saw ..."
"Visiting" (Esteves), 177-78 (Klepfisz), 136-37
White Cliffs of Dover, The (motion
Walcott, Derek, 116 picture), 187

"The camps hold their whiteness
distance —
brown chestnuts language and, 181-89
and gray smoke," 220-21, as location for reading poetry, 67,

265 99-100, 141, 204, 263
Walker, Alice, 174 as mind-set, 203-4
In Love and Trouble, 30 presumption of, 182, 189
Meridian, 54 spirituality and, 7

Walker, Margaret, 239 violence and, 17, 69—70
war Western supremacism and, 24
attraction of, 64 and white man's Uterature, 222
as failure of imagination, 16 see also racism
glorification of, 62—63 Whitman, Walt, 90-96, 190
historical distortions of, 93 "All this is thenceforth to be
asmanaged spectacle, 85 thought or done by you . . .

monuments to, 106 91
mothers and, 146 Complete Poetry and Collected Prose,
poetry and, 47-48 93,256
profit from, 102 "How they are provided for upon
spectators of, 64 the earth (appearing at

surgical, 60 intervals) . . .
," 90-91
Warsaw Ghetto, 134-36 Leaves of Grass, 63, 93
Waste Land, The (Eliot), 193 Song of Myself, 93, 256
"Watching for What Happens "Through me forbidden
Next" (Goodeve), 256 voices . . .
," 93
"Waulking Songs" (Pratt), Willard Gibbs: American Genius

152 (Rukeyser), 257
304 Index

Williams, Oscar, Immortal Poems of Working in the Dark: Reflections of a
the English Language, 30 Poet of the Barrio (Baca),
Williams, Reese, Ununnding the 207-9
Vietnam War: From War into "Work Sonnets" (Klepfisz), 142-43
Peace, 106, 257 World's Fair, 186-87
Williams, William Carlos, 99, 195 World Split Open, The (anthology),
"Asphodel, That Greeny Flower," 174
ix Wright, James, 77
WiUkie, Wendell, 97 Delicacy and Strength of Lace, The:

Winner Names the Age, The: A Letters, 179-80, 262
Collection of Writings by Lillian Writer on Her Work, The (Sternburg),
Smith (Cliff), 254 96, 256
"Woman Is Talking to Death, A" WyHe, Ehnor, 190
(Grahn), 169-72
"Woman Question, The," 23, 25 Yeats, W. B., 159, 192

Women: A Journal of Liberation, "Yellow Afternoon" (Stevens), 54

174 Yiddish, 131-34, 140-41
women's liberation movement, 130, "You have to change your Hfe"
142, 160, 165, 167-80, (Rilke), 190-91

262 "Your Hit Parade" (radio show),

Wong, NeUie, 174 187
Woods, Donald, 38 Yung, Judy, Island: Poetry and History
Wordsworth, William, letter to, 43, of Chinese Immigrants on Angel
253 Island, 1 16-17, 258
One of our country's most distinguished
poets, Adrienne Rich was born in Baltimore in
1929. She graduated from Radcliffe College in
1951, when her first book of poems was selected
by W. H. Auden for the distinguished Yale Series
of Younger Poets. Over the next forty years, she
published more than fifteen volumes of poetry,
two collectionsof essays and speeches, and a fem-
inist study of motherhood. Rich's work has
achieved international recognition and has been
translated into German, Spanish, Swedish,
Dutch, Hebrew, Greek, Italian, and Japanese.
She has received numerous awards, fellowships,
and prizes, including two Guggenheim Fellow-
Fellowship of the Academy of Ameri-
ships, the
can Poets, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the
Lenore M^rshsiW/ Nation Prize for Poetry, the
Fund for Human Dignity Award of the National
Gay Task Force, the Common Wealth Award in
Literature, the Lambda Book Award, the Los
Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry, the National
Book Award, Medal of the Po-
the Frost Silver
etry Society of America, the Elmer Holmes
Bobst Award of New York University, and the
Poet's Prize. Since 1984, she has lived in

Printed in the United States oJ'Ai
Praise for What Is Found There

^'Adrienne Rich's extraordinary new collection of prose med-
itations on the essential place of poetry in our lives and cul-
ture reveals to us the power of the convergence of the
engaged political life, the unwavering conscience, and the
impassioned poetic imagination." — David St. John

"A prose work, but written in a poet's prose Simultane-
ously poetry anthology, exercise in reflection, social and cul-
tural diagnosis, poet's creed . . . book of wisdom
this is a

It will be a different book for each reader —
and more reso-
nant with each rereading Evocative and moving."
— Wendy Stallard Flory
in the New York Times Book Review

''The clear-eyed depth and the visionary stretch of these
notes bespeak an irresistible, prophetic intelligence and a
huge heart wrestling with the transformative power of poetry
up against the needs of an emerging new world."
— June Jordan
''What Is Found There will challenge, provoke, and illumi-
nate anyone who cares about American culture."
— Alicia Ostriker

"In her vision of warning and her celebration of life,

Adrienne Rich is the Blake of American letters."

— Nadine Gordimer

ISBN 0-393-03565-4
W-W-NORTON 90000 >

• 780393"035650"